Sometimes, films are unjustly judged. Other times, popular opinion needs to be challenged. Either way, our review of Thirteen Ghosts will almost definitely be Unpopularity Content.
2001’s Thirteen Ghosts may be something of a cult classic, but it’s not remembered for its quality. Its existence is a curious one: though technically a remake of the 1960 film of the same name, it borrows only a premise from its namesake. The gore, the world-threatening stakes, and most of its characters are original creations. In that sense, the film’s poor critical reception is all its own.
Starring Tony Shaloub, the film’s story follows Arthur Kriticos, a widower who inherits a strange house from his eccentric uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham). After arriving with his young son, teenage daughter, and their housekeeper, Arthur discovers that the bizarre glass house is actually home to Cyrus’ collection of angry spirits. Along with Cyrus’ former business partner Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) and “supernatural liberator” Kalina (Embeth Davidtz), the family attempt to leave the house before Cyrus’ twisted plan can come to fruition.
Critics disliked the film, citing its poorly-written plot and a number of irresponsible inclusions including repeated strobing effects (without warning) and an unnecessarily loud soundtrack. The consensus was that the the film simply wasn’t very good, though time has been kind to Thirteen Ghosts, and it has since earned a cult following. Even so, critical analysis hasn’t changed much over the years, so who’s right: the fans who love it, or the critics who hate it?
Thirteen Ghosts Boasts Solid Production Design But No Real Substance
Considering it was made in 2001, Thirteen Ghosts‘s production design is genuinely impressive. Its setting being composed almost entirely of glass is a visually interesting and logistically remarkable feat, and the titular spirits are realized largely through practical effects, meaning they’ve aged surprisingly well. Unfortunately, it seems that the production team focused so much on the film’s visuals that they forgot about everything else.
The film’s story is laughably simple, and it’s filled with some of the dumbest plot twists imaginable. It does very little to improve upon the original, and in fact actually hurts the story of its namesake by adding in needless elements and excessive focus on ill-defined occult rituals. Once the gimmick of the glass house grows stale, there’s remarkably little left, even as the film continues to assert that everyone should aspire to own such an impractically designed deathtrap of a home.
Matthew Lillard Is The Only Cast Member Worth Mentioning
Despite the appearance of multiple big name actors of the day (including Shalhoub, Davidtz, Abraham and Shannon Elizabeth), the only actor to give an earnest performance is Matthew Lillard. Lillard attempts to breathe life into a wooden script filled with ill-conceived notions, and occasionally even succeeds, but the efforts of one man can’t rescue the near-incoherent plot. It’s essentially just one exposition dump to the next, with occasional appearances of menacing spirits milked for shock value. No actor could make that seem like anything more than it is.
There’s very little to defend about Thirteen Ghosts. It’s thoroughly uninteresting and forgettable, with only the setting and one or two of its murderous phantoms being noteworthy enough to last in the memory. A handful of solid visuals and a clunky plot does not a good film make, and it seems that the critics were right on this one: Thirteen Ghosts really is a waste of time.
Summary: Thirteen Ghosts has something resembling a plot, but it’s hardly worth noting. Outside of the film’s admittedly interesting setting and well-realized effects, it offers nothing to true fans of the horror genre.
Highlight: The scene in which Cyrus’ lawyer is unceremoniously sliced in half by a glass wall is perhaps the most memorable moment in the film, if only for the simple shock value of its needless gore.