When “The Sixth Sense” and “The Others” released in 1999 and 2001, respectively, we finally saw a long-awaited twist to the classic ghost story. Without wanting to give away spoilers, seeing what it was like from the ghost’s perspective is something many writers must have been tinkering away on prior to 1999. After “The Others”, there was some expectation that perhaps we’d see more films depicting a role reversal in the ghost movie. But by the time the aforementioned movie released, there was already a backlash developing against “The Sixth Sense” in its twist ending being too easy to figure out.
The above is still an arguable case depending on how observant you are. Nevertheless, the idea of a narrative from the ghost’s perspective seemed to get a kibosh by studio executives after that point. It wasn’t until 2009’s “The Lovely Bones” did we see a main character from the perspective of an afterlife. And even then, it had to resort to an “in-between” rather than a definite location or interacting with people here on Earth.
“Haunter” is now trying to bring this all back, even if the rules behind it may end up as complicated as cinematic time travel rules if becoming mainstream. Just like people tore apart the logic of “The Sixth Sense”, an official screenwriting rulebook for ghost perspective would help stop some of the pitfalls before astute viewers scope them out.
Just what pitfalls should ghost perspective movies avoid?
Don’t Show Direct Interaction with People in the Real World
We’ve already seen our share of ghost movies where a departed person manifests looking like they did in life. Some of those have been comedies like the rarely seen “Kiss Me Goodbye” with James Caan and Sally Field. You can include “The Sixth Sense” in this category once you know the twist ending.
The worst angle is when the ghost manifests wearing clothing they wore in life and can only be seen by one person a la “Topper.” While the latter 1937 movie was full of entertaining wit, most films that go this route can’t get away with it without being contrived.
This doesn’t give an excuse for the ghost to look overly ghostly either. While “The Woman in Black” made it generally effective, insinuation still works and shouldn’t be considered archaic. It doesn’t give an excuse for a ghost to look literally transparent either.
Heaven Shouldn’t Be Clouds and Angels in White Robes
Even if some life after death experiences describe heaven as looking similar, showing a heavenly realm seems mostly off limits in film today. And that’s a good thing when movies of the past wore out the idea of someone entering a heavenly environment filled with swirling clouds and angelic superiors dressed in white robes.
Most ghost movies don’t bother going there, even if a new movie from the ghost perspective may have to show a different universe from what we’ve seen before. With CGI advancements, a future ghost perspective movie may inevitably go there to move out of the in-between. Or, after “Interstellar” releases in 2014, showing a ghost interacting inter-dimensionally might be the new thing.
Don’t Let the Ghost Make Screaming or Moaning Sounds
Ghost movies have mostly moved beyond the screams and moans of ghosts, even if “The Woman in Black” sometimes proved otherwise. While it’s better to do that than to have them interacting in normal conversation, a careful balance of the two works better. Think Marley from all of the “Christmas Carol” adaptations.
If there’s an insistence on screaming and moaning, then perhaps an astute screenwriter will provide a new twist. That twist might prove the moaning ghost isn’t a loved one at all and some other entity deceiving everyone.