Ghostbusters as a franchise is something that I have a turbulent relationship with – I never watched the second film, but had fun with the first and really liked the 2016 movie, its attempt to do something different with the franchise was welcomed and it still holds up quite well despite its fairly generic ending. It seems like “fairly generic endings” was probably what Ghostbusters: Afterlife was going for – because there’s about 45 minutes of decent material here – decent in the sense that if it were an original film, it’d be a pretty good investigation – taking the premise of a family moving to their grandfather’s house and finding mysterious going-ons in the village around it that are connected to a mountain nearby. But then Afterlife goes full nostalgia-bait, intent on delivering nothing but a shameless cash-grab that exists as nothing more than to satisfy the ever increasing media clickbait YouTube videos that boast “40 things that you might have missed”, without ever trying to make the film standalone in its own right. There’s nothing wrong with connecting to what you loved in the past – but it should never come at the expense of what exists in the present.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife borrows some cues from The Force Awakens and other legacy sequels of the mid-to-late 2010s, but unlike J.J. Abrams’ enjoyable romp that is to this day one of his best films – Afterlife forgets what the first Ghostbusters film was about. It was more of a comedy than a horror. Here Afterlife goes the other way and plays it almost entirely straight, save for a couple of bizarre tonal shifts that feel completely out of place and awkward. It’s a damning statement that by the time the beloved Ghostbusters theme kicks in – it doesn’t feel like it belongs in this world at all.
Everything about Ghostbusters: Afterlife is thin and cheap on the ground. McKenna Grace has to anchor the weight of an entire movie on her shoulders and is easily the best part of the film that wastes Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd in fairly underdeveloped, one-note parts. Finn Wolfhard was purely cast because he was in Stranger Things, and there’s even a character named Podcast – if you had an idea as to how “how do you do, fellow kids?” Afterlife is trying to be. The less said about Wolfhard’s would-be love interest the better, there is zero attempt to develop Celeste O’Connor – excellent in 2019’s Selah and the Spades, so much better than this – as a memorable character at all over than someone for Wolfhard’s Trevor to fall in love with, and the resolution to their plot feels like it introduces multiple potential threads and ultimately goes nowhere.
Maybe if Afterlife hadn’t spent so much investment in leading towards where it ultimately ends up – it favours nostalgia at the expense at creating a movie that can exist on its own – it would have given us a much more appreciated film that would have at least tried to adopt its own spin on the franchise. But Jason Reitman doesn’t even try – I won’t spoil the ending here, but at best it’s nostalgia bait. At worse it’s offensive and completely disrespectful.
Afterlife never gets the chance to exist as its own movie and that robs it of any sense of a collective identity or purpose. If it had any of those then maybe it might have stood a chance – but it never even gets one. The only positive is McKenna Grace – but the film just feels like a complete trainwreck. There might have been something worth staying around for in the end credits scenes – but I’d long since lost interest.