Ghost Game (2006)

“Tonight’s game is The Night We Dare the Ghosts. Group one, proceed to the torture chamber”. These are words you never want to hear and this is Ghost Game, a game show that challenges contestants to stay in haunted houses / villages / concentration camps until they run screaming in terror. The last remaining contestant wins. This is not a smart idea, and begging for something to go wrong. And in this case, it does. Horribly.

Ghost Game is a terrifying little film. It taps into the raw terror of the unstoppable unknown and doesn’t let go. Set in the ancient Cambodian Prison Camp of Case 17, it throws together eleven contestants into some kind of absurd island version of Big Brother. The competition is simple – the contestant who stays in the camp the longest wins 5 million baht (over £100,000). The show’s creators have set up cheeky traps to scare the participants, but something else is scaring them witless too. Something deadly.

A program briefing lets us know of Case 17 – it was a Khmer Rouge prison camp run by a sadistic leader, who was responsible for torturing and killing thousands of people. When the regime was coming to an end, he killed all the guards and shot himself. Years on, the camp became a museum, but was closed down due to a number of mysterious deaths. Closed off and left derelict for a decade, Ghost Game decide it’s the perfect setting for their next challenge.

In truly sick fashion, the live television show gives the contestants the uniforms of the long-deceased victims and the beds of the VIP prisoners, who were killed brutally in those very cells. It is a grim concept but utterly believable in this ghost-baiting world we live in, with the likes of Most Haunted and Derek Acorah becoming more and more popular. Ghost Game just ups the ante by making it into a game… and there being real ghosts.

The participants begin to see the torture victims, in glimpses, creepy and static. Then they become more active, crawling out from under beds and tables. And then the Ghost Game makers dare the spirits to rise up and face the living, and the horrible, horrible mayhem begins.

Ghost Game is truly terrifying in places – it is creepy and disturbing, and although there are a couple of “what the hell are you doing” moments it is realistically gritty and desperate. The sound and soundscape are excellent too, really embedding a sense of dread throughout the piece. This is a great concept and well crafted, but it’s sadly laced with a very controversial history that makes it distinctly and wholly unlikable.

The film Ghost Game is hugely disrespectful to the real victims of the horrific reign of Pol Pot, and the film’s release caused outrage in Cambodia. Case 17 is a thinly veiled version of the horrifically barbaric Toul Sleng torture centre, and the head of Cambodia’s Culture Ministry’s cinema department, Kong Kendara, had personally denied the film-makers permission to film the movie at Toul Sleng itself. It would be the equivalent of setting Most Haunted meets Big Brother in Auschwitz, and having the ghosts of Jewish families harass a load of money-hungry morons. It’s simply extremely disrespectful.

Up to two million Cambodians died from torture, disease, starvation and execution under the Khmer Rouge’s bloody Democratic Kampuchea regime, which lasted from 1975 to 1979. Ghost Game takes their memories and turns it into a bit of horror fun, and it’s painful to watch at times knowing this. The idea of Ghost Game is a solid, terrifying one, but the context in which it was made is upsetting and horribly disrespectful.

Ghost Game is difficult to judge. On one hand it’s a genuinely scary horror film, with a solid concept and moments of terror, but on the other it’s a disgusting exploitation of a horrific real-life incident. Worth watching if your morals have dissolved, but otherwise it’s a sickeningly awkward grave-desecrating giant chunk of disrespectfulness.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

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