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Ghosts with Shit Jobs
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by Jay Seaver

"As far as sci-fi mockumentaries go, it's certainly not, well, you know."
4 stars

The "ghosts" of this movie's title are not supernatural; "gwai lo" in Cantonese is both the word for ghost and slang for white/foreign people, and since this movie posits a future where the Western economies have collapsed... Well, the rest of the title then explains itself. It does so in fairly amusing fashion, too, poking fun at the modern world and documentary conventions.

Presented as a special episode of Chinese television show Window on the World, the presentation follows a group of people living on the fringes of Toronto. In "Babymakers", we meet Karen (Kelly Spilchak) and Gary (Jason Wrubell), a married couple who assemble and test disturbingly realistic toys even though Karen would much rather be designing killer robots. Brothers Anton (Jonah Hundert) and Toph (Taylor Katz) are "Silk Gatherers", the grown children of refugee European acrobats who collect the valuable webs left behind by the giant mutant spiders that ran amok years ago. There's a "Digital Janitor", Oscar (Sean Lerner), who pixilates copyrighted material in a virtual reality copy of the city, while Serina (Rachel MacMillan) is "Human Spam", making a living by dropping product names into conversation.

Even before the recent found-footage boom, the sci-fi mockumentary would pop up on a fairly regular basis; they're a fun way to play around with ideas without the audience feeling disappointed when the movie doesn't have a whole lot of people shooting laser pistols at each other (it helps keep laser pistol-related expenses down, too). Writer (and "Silk Gatherers" director) Jim Munroe has more than a few fun ideas here, and for the most part he and the other directors do a fine job of putting oddball characters, observational humor, and spoofs of the documentary medium itself. It's not the most cutting satire one will ever see, but it is chuckle-worthy even at its lowest ebb.

Of the four threads, the most clever is probably "Human Spam"; director Tate Young mimics the feel of a certain sort of sex-worker documentary - the sort which panders to the audience's desires to both leer at the girls and feel superior to them despite the pretense of being sympathetic - with Rachel MacMillan capturing the mercenary nature of this character type very well indeed while still building an interesting individual. There's a similar black comedy vibe to "Babymakers", with director Chris McCawley doing a nice job of playing the calm of Jason Wrubell's househusband against Kelly Spilchak's would-be mad scientist while having gleeful fun with the idea that babies can be really annoying.

The other segments are fun, too, although not quite so cleverly constructed. Jim Morrison's "Digital Janitor" has a fair amount of nice moments, including some fun role-reversal commentary bits about working long hours to make something for foreign consumers. It's a bit muted, as Sean Lerner could use a more energetic counterpoint to his sad performance. Speaking of which, Munroe's "Silk Gatherers" mostly gets by on the odd-couple chemistry of Jonah Hundert and Taylor Katz, with Katz making a good straight man to Hundert's boisterous but not so bright Anton.

That segment could, perhaps, use a giant spider or two, but a micro-budgeted movie like this one (four figures and a lot of volunteer labor) doesn't have giant spider resources. Munroe and company do make the most out of what budget they have, though; every bit of effects work serves to make the world feel a little more real, with the same attention to detail represented in dialogue that sprinkles deadpan nerd humor throughout. Oddly, as much as Munroe and company build a coherent world, things start to drag a bit when the threads converge; Serina and Oscar pair off well, but the others start to drag their plots out a bit.

With a name like "Ghosts with Shit Jobs", this movie isn't likely to break through to the mainstream, which is fine. One of the benefits of not spending a lot of money is being able to let the movie's audience find it, and this one is put together well enough that it should get some word of mouth.

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originally posted: 07/18/12 12:12:10
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