Chasing Ghosts tells the story of Lucas Simons (Toby Nichols) who, after the tragic death of his older brother, has become secluded and cut off from life and other children. As a film fan Lucas has begun using his video camera to covertly document funerals and upload them to YouTube. It would seem that this has been going on for some time without his family really noticing, but then one day he catches a ghost like presence on film at a funeral and the YouTube video begins to go viral. Suddenly Lucas is twisted into being a miniature local celebrity and must confront this new found attention whilst exploring the pressing questions he has about the afterlife, his brother and his grief-stricken family’s future.
There are three great successes in Chasing Ghosts; firstly the film has cast two lead child actors who have real talent and personality, secondly it mixes lots of very welcome humour and charm into what’s otherwise a very sombre look at death and grief, and thirdly the film doesn’t come down hard on any side of the spiritual/religious debate regarding the afterlife. All of these elements were real concerns of mine going into the film but I knew I was pretty safe in regards to at least one of the child actors which was The Walking Dead‘s Meyrick Murphy. She gives a lovely and intelligent performance here which nicely compliments the excellent work done by our lead Toby Nichols who demonstrates quite some level of talent here. His performance comfortably ranges from a giggling schoolboy to a raging and grief-stricken child who can’t find a way to cope with his loss. Everyone around him does a good job, and Tim Meadows in particular delivers a heartfelt and layered performance, but none can outshine Nichols’ star.
The biggest problem with this otherwise surprisingly adult and mature ‘family film’ is the slight tendency towards a saccharine tone. For most of the film it sort of gets away with it as there is a comedic, almost darkly comic vibe which runs throughout and that balances out the film’s occasional schmaltz. However, without giving anything away, the film does overcompensate somewhat towards the end which rather harms what’s otherwise a fairly levelheaded take on grief, modern internet culture and family.
Chasing Ghosts may not be breaking any new ground but it fully succeeds at what it wants to achieve. We have some great turns from the two child leads, which are backed up by a very capable supporting cast fronted by the affecting Tim Meadows. The film tackles grief in such a way that it doesn’t unintentionally insult children but instead manages to be honest and can be seen and appreciated by children and adults alike. The film also manages to make the dark subject matter entertaining with lots of nicely handled comedy, one scene in particular will appeal to film fans like myself! It could be less saccharine in places and it does try a little to hard to tie everything up in a neat bow come the end but overall this was an affecting piece of work which rather pleasantly surprised me.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Toby Nichols’ lead performance.
Its greatest weakness? Its occasional lapses into smaltz.
Would I see it again? Yes, I wouldn’t mind catching this again in a year or two.
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