★★★★☆

In Adam Stovall’s necromantic horror film, a lonely blue-collar worker at the end of his tether meets and falls in love with a ghost haunting a property he’s overseeing for renovation. A Ghost Waits is an unexpectedly heartfelt gem of micro-budgeted filmmaking.  

No matter how many tenants the landlord gets, they don’t last long. Renters often flee in the middle of the night, leaving all their belongings behind. The landlord is stumped, but he doesn’t know what to make of it. Sending in Jack (MacLeod Andrews), his trusted handyman, to investigate and make sure everything at the property is working okay, he soon locates the source of the house’s woes: a phantom named Muriel (Natalie Walker). It’s her afterlife home, she sees the living as invaders, and she wants to be left alone.

Presented in black-and-white with a crucial use of pale contrast, photographically symbolising Jack’s emotionally drained worldview and lack of interest in his life or surroundings, A Ghost Waits is a mumblecore-style, tragi-comic tale featuring bittersweet performances by leads Andrews and Walker. The script, also by Stovall, handles its contrapuntal elements – the quirky love story with the darker, melancholic undertow and themes of suicide and depression – deftly, making this a consistently surprising work, all the more impressive given it was shot for peanuts.

A Ghost Waits is at its best in the first act, establishing Jack’s immense sense of isolation and resolute boredom with life. He can find no joy in anything and sadly he’s stopped caring. If only friends would notice, read between the lines, help him out. But nobody does. We’re all of us wrapped up in our own lives and worries, as Jack mentions, not wishing to bear any grudges against friends and family. There’s a sense, too, Jack is secretive and hiding his pain, putting on a brave face for the world. It makes the conclusion of the film even more realistic and affecting.

Only the film’s madcap, farcical beats let it down in its Beetlejuice homage. Having ghosts assigned houses to haunt and it’s their job to get rid of the living, for instance, adds an unnecessary, conceptually messy touch. Does it need any of this? Not really. A Ghost Waits is strongest when focused on Jack’s depression, the blossoming courtship, Muriel’s initial befuddlement as to why she can’t scare the guy away like all the rest, and an encroaching tragedy signposted a mile off, but this is precisely what makes its denouement all the more powerful and uncomfortable.

FrightFest runs from 28-31 August. Tickets are available at frightfest.co.uk.

Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio