Ghost Light is a clever take on theatre superstitions. You must never say the name of Shakespeare’s haunting play Macbeth in a theatre because it holds a curse. Instead, refer to it as “The Scottish Play.” Also, you must always leave a light burning in an empty theatre—a “ghost light.” The idea of the Macbeth curse came from rumors that a coven of witches objected to Shakespeare using realincantations so they placed a hex on the play and every production thereafter.
John Stimpson’s quirky horror-comedy takes place in the fields of Massachusetts where a group of ragtag summer stock actors will be performing Macbeth in a barn. Their production turns ghostly when one of them unleashes the fabled curse.
Ghost Light boasts a stellar cast of characters (and some who are Broadway legends) as recognizable theatre tropes: Carol Kane is a kooky, washed-up actress, Roger Bart is the frazzled director, and the hilarious Cary Elwes is a pompous and hammy actor who casts himself as Macbeth because he is a benefactor.
Shannyn Sossamon stands out the most as the actress who plays Lady Macbeth dealing with her own personal problems: she is dating Elwes’ character and cheating on him with Thomas (Tom Riley) who plays Banquo but covets the lead role. Sossamon conveys Liz Beth’s ennui and descent into madness with an alluring intensity. When her devious role on stage and off stage real life starts to converge, she starts to see blood on her hands like in the famous “Out, damned spot!” monologue.
The special effects used to bring the uncanny final production of Macbeth to life are excellent; they have a strange beauty and are quite well-made for a smaller-budget film. Ghost Light accurately depicts the camaraderie and minutiae of the thespian lifestyle. This offbeat tale of life imitating art puts a unique twist on theatre folklore. Stimpson interweaves supernatural eeriness and eccentric comedy with finesse.
The Issue With Elvis is another tale of an unlikely friendship between an adult and child. The gentle drama centers on Dr. Mercer, a scientist who lives alone in the mountains and comes across a boy named Elvis in the woods that lives in a rusty bus near an abandoned amusement park. Mercer brings the boy to his home and tries to help him. He has gotten used to his hermetic lifestyle, but there’s something about Elvis’ mysterious innocence that makes solitude seem less unappealing.
What sets The Issue With Elvis apart from other similar films is the relationship between the filmmakers. Charlotte Wincott directs with an intimate, loose style that brings out the innate chemistry of her husband and son as the lead roles; their interactions, which carry the entire film, are dynamic and visually interesting. Their pre-established familial connection combined with the on-location shooting in the sprawling woods lends the film a singular authenticity and raw feeling. Charlotte Wincott’s cozy interiors express Elvis’ growing comfort with Mercer.
Jeff Wincott has a measured warmth beneath his curt, logical surface as the isolated biologist. He’s exactly the kind of benevolent presence that Elvis needs in his life. As Elvis, Wincott’s son Wolfgang does not necessarily deliver a polished performance, nor would it be considered one of the greatest from a young performer; there are moments where he has a very flat affect and trouble finding words (or remembering lines?) but in a way, it works for his role as a traumatized child.
It’s also nice to see in this film a young person being so inquisitive about the outdoors instead of wanting to be inside playing video games all day. Elvis reinvigorates Mercer’s inner teacher and he happily lectures him on the machinations of the outdoors in his pleasant, robust voice. The only other characters in The Issue With Elvis are in stilted voiceovers over the phone.
The Issue With Elvis is a sweet character study that encourages viewers to have empathy for those with mental illness. As a story of a fractured family finding one another, it has familiar beats, but its good-hearted simplicity and roughness are charming.