Spooks and Spirits is the story of thirty-somethings Ingi (Gísli Örn Garðarsson) and Anna (Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir), a happy couple on the verge of starting the next big chapter of their lives together. Anna’s father, Ófeigur (Þórhallur Sigurðsson) is recently deceased and the couple plans to sell his house in favour of somewhere more family-oriented. But when Ófeigur makes an opportunistic decision to return from the grave and ‘move back in’ with Anna and Ingi, the couple’s plans for suburban bliss crumble. It seems Ófeigur has returned with three priorities in mind: drinking, philandering, and saving his home from being sold. And he makes quick work of manipulating the people around him in order to achieve his goals.
Spooks and Spirits is an easy watch. The characters are all likeable, if slightly under-baked (Ófeigur’s hand rubbing and knuckle-cracking sails well clear of caricature). The performances are also nice, especially from popular Icelandic export Gísli Örn Garðarsson. Plus there are some interesting insights into Icelandic culture. Despite the ghouls and séances and black magic that freckle this film, Spooks and Spirits is not a haunted house story. Ófeigur isn’t interested in scaring his family, and his family is remarkably unfazed by his reappearance. The real issue seems to be how to get him to move on so that Ingi and Anna can start the next part of their lives. Mostly, the poltergeist premise just provides a good excuse for loads of Halloween-themed slapstick: bottles that move by themselves, tumbling bookshelves, people jiggling uncontrollably, etc. But director Ágúst Guðmundsson could have made a film about a decision to move an ageing parent into a retirement village and the plot wouldn’t have changed much.
At its heart, Spooks and Spirits is a family comedy, although I wouldn’t exactly say that I laughed out loud in this film. I definitely concede that there may be a case of cultural clash going on here, where my Australian sense of humour doesn’t quite line up with the Icelandic one. Perhaps the comedy in this film carries a lot further than I realised. In any case, it certainly is structured like a comedy; the content is light and the characters and plot are simply drawn. This would make for a fun and undemanding movie for parents and kids to watch together, except for the fact that both Ófeigur and Ingi are constantly preoccupied with having sex, and Ófeigur is an alcoholic.
In spite of its 2013 release, Spooks and Spirits also features some awesomely old-school special effects: think Ghostbusters meets Round the Twist. It’s hard to tell whether this was done to crank up the kitsch levels to volume 11, or whether Guðmundsson only had 200 Krona in his visual effects budget, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. The swirly blue, semi-transparent ghost people add to the bizarre charm of this film.
In all, Spooks and Spirits is offbeat and enjoyable. It’s rare to see Icelandic films on the big screen and from a cultural perspective alone, it is well worth a look. It’s not as funny or moving or slick as it could be, but it does make for a good hour of escapism, and that’s good enough for me.
Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Spooks and Spirits will screen as part of the Scandinavian Film Festival, touring Australia in July. For more details head HERE.