LIFF27 - Ghost Graduation - Cinema Reviews

'Some of the spectral students are so heavily based on Breakfast Club characters they may as well just be dead, Spanish versions of them.'

If he had so desired, director Javier Ruiz Caldera could have wandered down some really quite dark alleyways with Ghost Graduation, with the blueprint for a film centred around teen angst, untimely death and psychological damage via the supernatural. Instead, he kicks things off with Whigfield’s “Saturday Night” piped over the film’s opening scene of a mid nineties school disco and doesn’t look back. Make no mistake, Ghost Graduation is an unashamedly fun film that it’s hard not to get swept away by.

Imagine The Sixth Sense crossed with The Breakfast Club blended together with a generous helping of comedy and you’ve pretty much nailed not only Ghost Graduation’s tone and style but also much of its story. Caldera is fairly shameless in his influence from other films, particularly John Hughes’ brat pack classic. Some of the spectral students are so heavily based on Breakfast Club characters they may as well just be dead, Spanish versions of them. But the performances from all five spooky scholars are so endearing and entertaining throughout that Caldera’s film succeeds in treading the fine line between being a tribute to and a parody of the eighties movies the director clearly adores.

Bridging the divide between the living and the afterlife, Raúl Arévalo deftly anchors the film as teacher of the dead Modesto, confidently realising the film’s combination of the darkly comedic, sharply deadpan and lightheartedly slapstick. The script from Cristóbal Garrido and Adolfo Valor is regularly tight, taking in opportunities for everything from ironic jokes at the expense of Michael Jackson and George Michael to a wonderful series of scenes between Modesto, his psychiatrist (Joaquín Reyes) and the ghost of his psychiatrist’s father (Luis Varela), who also happens to be a psychiatrist. Ghost Graduation is regularly laugh-out-loud funny, as attested not only by me but also by the majority of the people in the cinema with me.

As much as there is to like about Caldera’s film, there are also clear reasons why it never manages to become genuinely excellent cinema. The story, whilst enjoyable, is undeniably episodic and at times fails to venture far enough away from well-trodden ground - the idea of ghosts having “unfinished business” as seen here has been used so many times before that it’s now hard to accept as much more than a safe cliché to fall back on. As likeable as many of the characters are, most never receive much more than the basic levels of development to make sure the film works. The relationship between Modesto and headteacher Tina (Alexandra Jiménez) is simple but sweet; less successful is the student romance between ghost Jorge (Jaime Olías) and living Elsa (Aura Garrido), somewhat uncomfortable to follow throughout and ending up as one of the least satisfyingly resolved elements here.

Whilst certainly never perfect, Ghost Graduation gets by more than well enough on the many elements it does well. Caldera knows precisely the kind of entertaining movie he wants to make and consistently succeeds in doing this. Whilst never threatening to explore any deep or meaningful questions, Ghost Graduation has both heart and humour throughout. It may not have been the best film I saw at Leeds this year, but Ghost Graduation was certainly the most enjoyable.

The 27th Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF) took place from the 6th-21st November at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. More information is available via the official LIFF website.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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