A Fond Goodbye as a Gateway to a New Generation in ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ ⭐︎⭐︎⭐︎

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” exists as if the female ghostbusting crew was an imaginary apparition and yet introduces a new generation of accidental friends and family with the help of some old friends. The film is a sequel to the 1984 and 1989 Ghostbuster films and brings diversity to the ghostbusting business. If you look at the posters and think this is a Paul Rudd film or if you look at the frame used as a cover for the trailer below which features Finn Wolfhard and think he’s the focus, you’d be wrong. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” isn’t as androcentric as those two things seem to indicate. The central character is played by Mckenna Grace with Wolfhard as her brother and Rudd as a teacher who is romantically linked to their character’s mother. 

 

The original movie which was directed by Ivan Reitman was fun, but not perfect. As discussed in my article about revisiting the film, there was a problematic sexism. In addition, the diminishing of Ernie Hudson’s role as Winston Zeddemore made this a painful reminder of White privilege. As Hudson recalled in 2014:

The night before filming begins, however, I get this new script and it was shocking. The character was gone. Instead of coming in at the very beginning of the movie, like page 8, the character came in on page 68 after the Ghostbusters were established. His elaborate background was all gone, replaced by me walking in and saying, “If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.” So that was pretty devastating.

Ivan Reitman also directed the 1989 sequel. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis wrote the script for the original film and the sequel. The 2016 film was written by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig. Jason Reitman, son of Ivan, co-wrote (with “Poltergeist” director Gil Kenan) and directed “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” While the 2016 film exists in another universe, the unfinished business that brought it to the screen haunts this film because in 2021, diversity is a greater, more urgent issue. For the most part, in the first two films, was a White men’s club. That attitude is too full of slime in 2021. 

In “Ghostbusters:Afterlife,” Ramis, who passed away in 2014 and played Egon Spengler in the original film, is the first Ghostbuster we see (thanks to archival clips and body double Oliver Cooper).  With their ghostbusting business’ success, the original crew found they were out of work. There were no supernatural crises in New York City. Egon Spengler has moved to Summerville Oklahoma, a small town close to the mining operations of Ivo Shandor (J.K. Simmons).

Shandor was a physician and architect in the early 20th century who is mentioned in the original film.  Shandor established a cult that worshipped Gozer, that at one time had a thousand followers. It is Shandor’s original plans that bring about the events of the first film and then, indirectly lead to the events of the second film. In “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” Shandor established the town of Summerville in the 1920s, building a gateway for Gozer at the mine.

Spengler captures one of demonic creatures at the mine in an attempt to lure Gozer to his dirt farm. Spengler’s plan fails and just before he died of a heart attack, Spengler hides the ghost trap with the demon inside under the floor of his house in a secret compartment.

Elsewhere, the daughter that Spengler left behind when he left New York for Oklahoma, Callie (Carrie Coon), is now a single mom with two kids: the science nerd Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and the mechanically-inclined Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). Callie is having problems economically and she learns about her father’s death just as she is being evicted for non-payment of rent. Hoping for some kind of inheritance, she take the kids to what the locals call the “dirt farm.” The roughly made signs outside of this dirt farm red flag Spengler for insanity.

Ghostbuster fans will recognize this reference to Revelations 6:12. In the 1984 “Ghostbusters,” Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) recited 6:12, “And I looked as he opened the sixth seal, and behold there was a great earthquake, and the sun became as black as sackcloth, and the moon became as blood.” Winston Zeddemore replies, “And the seas boiled, and the skies fell. Judgment Day.”

Inside,  they find books but not much worth selling. Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) stops by and informed Callie that what her father did have was debt. In the original film, Melnitz was the secretary and was romantically attracted to Spengler. In the town, Trevor finds himself intrigued by a local girl. Lucky Domingo (Celeste O’Connor), at a very fifties (waitpeople on roller skates) type of burger joint. He applies for a job there.

Phoebe ends up enrolled in summer school which she calls a “state-sponsored work camp for delinquents.” There, while the teacher in charge, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), plays a VHS video of the “Beethoven if he contracted rabies” film “Cujo,” Phoebe learns Grooberson is interested in the recent seismic activity in Summerville. This is a town that isn’t located near any Teutonic plates or volcanoes so the increased seismic activity makes no geological sense.

One of Phoebe’s classmates, Podcast (Logan Kim), introduces himself as he tries to interview Phoebe for his podcast. At home, Phoebe also makes another friend: the ghost of her grandfather guides her to the ghost trap, the Psychokinetic Energy Meter and the secret lab under the barn. Her brother, Trevor, discovers ECTO-1.

This film isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as the original because there’s an air of missed opportunities and a melancholy for the people who have preceded us into the afterlife that not only plays out on the screen for those new to this franchise, but off-screen for those who have grown old with it. Since the original stars had cameos in the 2016 film, maybe future iterations will feature cameos or references of that cast. (One of the Easter eggs in “Afterlife” is a reference to a family film that starred a dog which the elder Reitman produced.) My geeky scientist husband and I (who loved geometry class in middle school) wished for more geeky bad jokes. Moreover, it is lovely that Hudson is finally allowed to shine.

Phoebe will discover what happened in NYC through YouTube and her grandfather’s apparition will guide her toward completing his mission because Phoebe “ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” Saving the world and thwarting Shandor’s plan (something that will partially be squashed by Gozer itself), will require the new Ghostbusters–Phoebe, her brother Trevor, Trevor’s current crush Lucky and Phoebe’s friend Podcast–to contact the old Ghostbusters because “Who ya gonna call?”

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” was released theatrically on 19 November 2021. Be sure to stay for the mid-credits and post-credits scenes. 

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