Credit: Netflix
by Chris Mello Featured Film Streaming Scene

Ghost Lab | Paween Purijitpanya

May 31, 2021

Ghost Lab works as a bit of weirdo fun for a while, but the film’s playful tone is obliterated halfway through and never recovers.

At first glance, and indeed for about half of the film’s runtime, Ghost Lab appears to be a rather light horror-comedy about two doctors trying to make contact with the beyond, but it eventually gives way to something much stranger and harder to write off into a genre box. That it does so by taking a hard turn toward the melodramatic with honestly brazen stupidity is almost beside the point because, while Ghost Lab is not especially good by most metrics, it is unpredictable and compellingly weird. At its outset, paranormal skeptic Wee and true believer Gla have an encounter with a ghost in the very haunted hospital in which they practice. While their reactions to the apparition couldn’t be more different — Gla is overjoyed while Wee’s beliefs are shaken to the core — it’s not long before the pair have agreed to collaborate on a long experiment to prove the existence of ghosts. To that end, they set out with handheld video cameras, exploring the hospital for signs of the paranormal. These sequences are decidedly rote but mostly fun, playing like any number of found footage ghost stories in miniature, or even recalling the glut of ghost investigator TV series (like Discovery’s Ghost Lab, no relation).

But with little documentable phenomena on hand and a desire to classify the different sorts of ghosts and their behaviors, the doctors find themselves stuck and in need of a new methodology. While it’s difficult to discuss what happens without spoiling the mid-movie twist, as it’s so integral to the shift in tone, the thrill of discovery is the one thing Ghost Lab has going for it. Suffice to say that Wee and Gla opt for extreme measures, devising a dipshit experiment that’s wildly inadvisable, unethical, and nonsensical to anyone who takes the time to think about it for more than a moment. The rest of the film, then, deals with the fallout of this decision and strips away everything that was goofy and affable about the movie to that point, leaning hard into what one assumes are meant to be probing questions about death while varying wildly in tone and quality from scene to scene. One scene might be a melodramatic dinner about the grief-afflicted loved ones of the deceased and the next a tightrope suspense thriller about ghostly revenge and the weight of a guilty conscience. Ghost Lab’s climactic sequence outdoes everything else in the film, presenting a battle between man and spirit that features a ghost performing CPR, presented completely solemnly.

By that point, however, Ghost Lab’s idiot fun has already started to curdle thanks to an alarming lack of empathy for anyone other than its two protagonists. Most upsetting is the crude cruelty with which the film treats sexual assault, played here like just a particularly unethical part of an experiment with no consequences for anyone; the film even has the victim play it off like nothing happened. In light of this, it’s hard to take seriously the moments where director Paween Purijitpanya leans into something approximating an exploration of grief, refashioning those moments into ponderous signaling rather than anything genuinely insightful or even curious. If the fun of Ghost Lab is in seeing what its two moronic scientists will think of next, its downfall — even as a work of diverting schlock — is in what the filmmaker does not think of at all.

You can currently stream Paween Purijitpanya’s Ghost Lab on Netflix.