Posted: 03/24/2004

 

Urban Ghost Story

(1998)

by Del Harvey



Part Poltergeist and part Exorcist, this film from Scotland benefits from a strong cast and a juicy little drama.


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Lizzie (Heather Ann Foster) is a 12-year old living with her mom Kate (Stephanie Buttle—Crimetime, Silent Cry) and younger brother in a Glasgow tenement. One reckless night of underage drinking and driving and Lizzie blames herself for the death of her best friend, since she was the one behind the wheel when their car overturned and burst into flames. After a car accident, Lizzie lies dead on the roadside—slowly she is taken into the light—but is pulled back to earth when she is revived by the doctors. Lizzie feels sure that during the 184 seconds that she lay dead, something latched on to her and came back into her world. The nightmares and visions that follow only crystallize her belief that she should have died in the crash…

As a result of this traumatic event, Lizzie not only blames and hates herself, but her family is suddenly visited by a ghost who moves heavy furniture as though it were a feather and keeps them awake nights with bone-shaking sounds. Lizzie’s first hurdle is convincing mom that this ghost is real. Once this has been accomplished they try to seek help in the usual places, but the police and civil services people chalk these occurrences up to a teenager’s overactive imagination, and soon threaten to take her away if mom can’t do her job right. The only person who seems genuinely interested in helping them is a staff writer for Scotland’s version of The National Enquirer, a reporter named John Fox (Jason Connery—Shanghai Noon, Bullet to Beijing). His publication contacts a group that studies paranormal activities and together they try to identify the source of these ghostly phenomenon. The suspense builds as Lizzie’s ghost’s activities increase, until finally the highly confused teen is near suicidal.

Urban Ghost Story’s cast makes this taut little drama work, thanks to dedicated performance from the core group of actors (Heather Ann Foster, Stephanie Buttle and Jason Connery). The cinematography is typically British but in this case washed out works to good effect. The direction, by Genevieve Jolliffe, is supportive of this drama disguised as a ghost story, balancing the suitable mix of genres so we are frightened or concerned at the proper moments, and continually wanting to know what will happen next.

Urban Ghost Story is available at your local video store beginning in early April, or available for purchase from MTI Home Video.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, and teaches screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.



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