Chock full of delightful narrative surprises, imaginative genre tweaks, and warming performances from its two leads, this low-budget romcom-horror story is worth seeking out. Director Adam Stovall, who co-wrote the script with the film’s star MacLeod Andrews, makes an impressive feature debut with an obviously teensy budget. It’s smartly deployed to cover essentially one set, some theatrical makeup and kit for some fetching black-and-white cinematography that simultaneously recalls vintage-era spooky movies of the 30s as well as too-cool-for-school early Jim Jarmusch films such as Stranger Than Paradise.
Andrews’ protagonist Jack is a handyman who works for a property management company. His job is to check over houses for damage and do some light cleaning after tenants move out. However, it looks as if the former residents of an ordinary looking, two-storey suburban house left in a hurry, leaving all their possessions behind; Jack’s boss wants him to find out why so many previous clients similarly skipped out in a rush.
Turns out it’s because the place is haunted by Muriel (Natalie Walker), a “spectral agent”, as she insists on being called, who has felt a particular sense of ownership over the building for many years. At first, Jack doesn’t even notice the doors opening by themselves or the lights turning on, but eventually Muriel gets his attention and makes herself visible; the two discover a spiritual affinity of sorts, that grows into a friendship and more.
Like Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, the script’s world-building posits a kind of afterlife bureaucracy in charge of hauntings, albeit one that seems to have gone through a very 21st-century style rebranding that has banished use of the word “ghost”. Muriel is a respected worker, but her boss, officious desk ghoul Ms Henry (Amanda Miller), is determined to undermine her and puts another co-worker (Sydney Vollmer) on the case as well.
All of this ensures the film is not in the least bit scary, and clears room emotionally for a conclusion that’s as weird as it is apt and genuinely moving. Choice musical cuts from Honeyhoney, the Bengsons and Wussy further enhance the film’s insouciant street cred.
• A Ghost Waits is released on the Arrow player in the UK, US and Canada on 1 February.