Should you have sex with a ghost? The internet votes yes. When real people — yes, real people — asked Yahoo Answers about spirit nookie, experts responded, “I don’t see anything wrong with it,” “yess my bf and i have a 4 some and there [sic] all ghosts,” and “ghosts are STD sterile. Enjoy your sex with it.”
Alas, poor Brooklyn hipster Ruth (Lindsay Burdge) isn’t living in today’s scientific reality. She’s the suffering heroine of Harrison Atkins’s Lace Crater, a horror flick about a one-night stand with eternal consequences. Ruth meets Michael (Peter Vack), a burlap-wrapped phantom with the tragic beauty of a Russian poet, haunting her friend’s guest house on a weekend trip with her clique. We’re worried about her safety even before Michael materializes on the bed: all night, Ruth’s pals have been pressuring her to get high and hook up with Andrew (Andrew Ryder), despite his terrifying man-bun.
The joke is, compared to self-centered Claudette (Jennifer Kim) and the rest of Ruth’s flesh-and-blood bros — all catty city-folk types who you just know spend $4 on an organic apple while ignoring the homeless — Michael seems dorky and sweet, the Charlie Brown of corpses just trying to answer her questions about, “You know, when I was alive or whatever.” Of course she picks him over the creeps. But a condom would have been smart.
Lace Crater is Atkins’s first feature, and he’s clearly inspired by high-class, low-budget mumblegore flicks like It Follows with their neon fonts and chilled-out casts. This wave of young filmmakers uses horror concepts to sell indie stories, a showman’s pitch that gooses up what’s really a simple plot about a lonely girl with monstrous friends. These flicks can lean too much on mood, asking us to stare at their heroine’s face until we invent an excuse why. Still, I love seeing how much they do with so little. Instead of CG ghosts, Atkins spams the screen with rainbow tech glitches that feel like staring into an old Magnavox on LSD. He repulses us just by glossing Burdge in slimy sweat that makes it look like her skin is vomiting up the cells underneath. And here comes indie king Joe Swanberg to bless the production by playing an ex-boyfriend who rattles Ruth with commonplace tortures — he gets audiences screaming during a sunshiny lunch.
As Ruth estranges herself from her squad, Lace Crater elbows us to think about how quickly we dismiss “crazy ladies” — women who need things we can’t give, who cry and mutter and glare and ruin parties; women surrounded by gossips who can’t afford to make a single mistake. Burdge closes down her expressive face. The eager smile goes flat, and the hood goes up. She’s resigned to suffering something no one can understand in a world that doesn’t pat our heads and present an easy fix.
“There’s a lot that doesn't get explained to you,” sighs Michael. “You just kind of deal with it.” If only Ruth had first consulted Yahoo Answers’s lone dissenter, who under the pseudonym Steve Stifler cautioned, “Last ghost I had an encounter with, gave me a bj and my penis hurt the next day :(”