I was very impressed by Chad Ferrin's debut feature UNSPEAKABLE, a disturbingly fascinating slice of indie dementia, so when I learned Ferrin had turned to the undead for his follow-up THE GHOULS, I leapt at the chance to include the film in the project. Unfortunately, it seems Ferrin fell prey to the sophomore slump.
Timothy Muskatel stars as Eric Hayes, a hard-drinking, crack-smoking tabloid photographer who makes his living filming various accidents and crime scenes, which he then sells to a sleazy news executive (DAY OF THE DEAD's Joseph Pilato, going incognito here as "Joseph Rhodes"--cute). During his latest bender, Hayes witnesses a woman being devoured by what appear to be three homeless men; with fellow cameraman Cliff in tow (a criminally underused Trent Haaga), Hayes hits the streets on a quest for the Holy Grail of sensationalistic footage.
Ferrin shows a knack for exposing the humanity within the squalid underbelly of humanity, and even does so with a fair amount of humor. He never lets Hayes be a simple caricature of an opportunistic merchant of human misery; coupled with a strong, understated performance by Muskatel (a far cry from his deranged persona in UNSPEAKABLE), he shows Hayes as a man deadened by the world, whose grisly profession is just a means to get the next soul-bandaging bottle of whiskey, the next line of coke. However, Ferrin lets both his protagonist and his premise go unexplored, since the movie flatlines after an intriguing first act.
We're never shown how Hayes got to such a low point, and since his investigation consists mostly of a series of boring non-events that raise more questions than they answer, we never really get to see him evolve as a character. (And speaking of unanswered questions, exactly what are Ferrin's ghouls? He first presents them as vampire-like creatures, then later they appear closer to zombies, without really delving into what they are, how they live, etc.) And I hate throwing this guy's first movie at him, but UNSPEAKABLE displayed a remarkable amount of storytelling skill, so to see THE GHOULS's storyline crumble is especially irritating. Also, the film obviously wants to satirize/demonize the "If it bleeds, it leads," mantra of modern media, but does very little with it; so little, that I wonder if perhaps Ferrin suddenly lost financing to do the film he really wanted, and was forced to make do with what he could.
Though it does have much going for it technically (the ghouls' underground lair is particularly well-shot) with a uniformly strong cast (watch for SLITHER director James Gunn in a brief cameo), they make the movie's failure all the more disappointing. Still, I can't wait to see what Ferrin does with his next film, and with a title like EASTER BUNNY, KILL! KILL!, neither should you.