Urban Ghost Story (1998)

Urban Ghost Story
Director: Geneviève Jolliffe
Writer: Geneviève Jolliffe, Chris Jones
Cast: Jason Connery, Stephanie Buttle, Heather Ann Foster, Nicola Stapleton, James Cosmo, Elizabeth Berrington, Siri Neal, Andreas Wisniewski, Billy Boyd
Part of: /slash Filmfestival
Seen on: 24.9.2019

Lizzie (Heather Ann Foster) only barely survived a car crash. She actually died for three minutes, but was reanimated. Only something seems to have followed her back to the world of the living. Her mother Kate (Stephanie Buttle) is more than disconcerted by the weird things happening around her daughter, and since she doesn’t get any other help, she turns to journalist John (Jason Connery) who uses their problems to write sensationalist news stories. In the ensuing chaos of their lives, Lizzie is struggling to hold everything together.

Urban Ghost Story works as a horror film, but even more than that it works as a character study of Lizzie and her environment shaped by poverty. It’s a beautiful, emotional and political film that should be much better known than it is.

The film poster showing mostly unfocused faces in red.

Urban Ghost Story is the kind of film I was really excited about seeing when the /slash announced that it would be having a special program focused on female horror film makers. Because it’s an absolutely fantastic film that seems almost entirely forgotten, and definitely shouldn’t be. (And I’m not just saying this because I absolutely loved the audience talk with Jolliffe.)

I admit, I wasn’t particularly scared at any point, though it does work as a horror film. But it wasn’t all that important, because the film focuses much more on Lizzie and who she is and how she grows up – impressively performed by Heather Ann Foster: as a teenager in a poor family, surrounded by drugs and desperation. But Jolliffe manages to not have it descend into poverty porn: she shows Lizzie’s resilience, but Lizzie is never objectified by the film.

Lizzie (Heather Ann Foster) and her friend Kerrie (Nicola Stapleton) lying on the floor.

She is, however, objectified by John who pretends to be her and her mother’s ally. With that plot strand, Jolliffe adds a biting commentary on how the media usually deals with poor people, adding another layer to her sharp and insightful portrayal of poverty itself.

In the end, the film leaves it open whether anything supernatural actually happened or not. But it makes damn sure that the ending feels cathartic and rounds things off perfectly. I really loved everything about it.

Lizzie (Heather Ann Foster) having a smoke in the hallway, listening to an argument.

Summarizing: Simply great.

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