This is an advance spoiler-free review of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which debuts in theaters on Nov. 19.
Before the critics’ screening of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, director Jason Reitman delivered a video message: this is a film about a family made by a family. That couldn’t be more true, and it’s what makes the newest entry into the Ghostbusters canon feel so special. Reitman also encouraged viewers to keep Afterlife’s secrets just that. Secret. He was right there, too, as this is the kind of movie that will awe and inspire if you let it. And in an age of reboots, remakes, and retreads, it manages to balance that fine — and financially lucrative — line between pleasing fans of the original and creating something accessible for new audiences.
As you’ll likely have gathered from the trailers, the story follows a single mother, Callie (Carrie Coon). Her life has been defined by the absence of her father, and after his death she inherits his rural farmhouse in Summerville, Okla. It’s a lucky break, as the family isn’t exactly on stable footing. So, she picks up her life and two kids, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace,) and moves to the country. Their chemistry is the kind you rarely see in cinematic families. It’s the glue that holds the film together and teases one of its greatest strengths: brilliant casting. Coon is her usual electric self as a harried mother of two who can’t connect with her young insular daughter. Wolfhard shrugs off Stranger Things with an older and more assured classic big brother role. But Grace outshines them both.
This is her movie. Phoebe is funny, weird, and unabashedly herself. Just like her roles in The Haunting of Hill House, Captain Marvel, and Annabelle Comes Home, Grace is almost unnaturally watchable. There’s no affectation or attempt to recreate her on-screen grandfather’s (Harold Ramis’ Egon Spengler) mannerisms. Instead, Phoebe is her own brand of nerd, and she’s wonderful. This is very much a film about this young girl finding herself through an unexpected connection with her family, so it’s important that Grace carries that weight well. That doesn’t mean this is some melodramatic family drama, though. If you were worried the trailers were a little stone faced, don’t fret. Reitman and co-writer Gil Kenan have crafted a cheeky, witty, well-paced, and heartfelt script that constantly delights.
Another of its strengths is the tight-knit cast full of talented and unexpected character actors. Bokeem Woodbine shows up as the local sheriff, and Paul Rudd is at his Paul Ruddiest (and, yes, that’s a very good thing) as Gary Grooberson, the local summer school teacher. There are a few other new faces too, but we won’t spoil those surprises. The real heart of the cast is the new young crew. Phoebe quickly befriends Podcast (Logan Kim), who’s a total breakout. A hilariously nuanced yet well played role, the keen child podcaster is a joy to watch, and Kim proves himself as a new comedic talent. His scenes with Grace are some of the best in the movie and deliver a few of its biggest laughs. Joining them is Trevor’s crush, Lucky (Celeste O’Connor). Nicely dispelling the older mean girl trope, Lucky is an adventurous, quick-witted, and generous friend who the crew desperately needs.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife Trailer #1 Images
From the moment the family enters Summerville, it’s clear something is up. Make no mistake, this is a Ghostbusters movie through and through, so there are supernatural shenanigans galore. Afterlife even nicely echoes the first two films by beginning with a big paranormal moment before setting the stage of the story. And those spooky scares look good. A lot of the effects are practical, rather than computer animated, which is an electrifying choice and fits with the sun-drenched nostalgic summer look. There’s even a sequence featuring an iconic Ghostbusters monster that was teased in the trailer that this reviewer thinks was brought to life by a real puppet or at least partial animatronics… in 2021! What a time to be alive. That summer holiday adventure tone is amped up by Rob Simonsen’s magical score, which has a touch of John Williams influence and almost sparkles as Phoebe explores her new home and discovers its secrets.
Those secrets run deep and are at the heart of the movie. This is a film about family, forgiveness, and saving the world — but along the way, of course, there are puzzles, mysteries, and haunted mine shafts aplenty. In this way, Afterlife harks back to the age of The Goonies, but with a thoroughly modern twist. As the burgeoning ghost hunters try to save their town and themselves, there are enough Easter eggs to make a grown man cry. But those who’ve never watched a Ghostbusters movie are still in for a very fun ride, filled with cool creature work, awesome action, and more.
Afterlife’s riotous third act will not only have audiences crying, but also likely arguing about a couple of key moments. For this reviewer, though, it’s all entirely earned. And make sure you stay for those post-credits scenes… yes, both of them. Trust us.