Ghostbusters: Afterlife reviews are in!
Last month, a photo of a girl sitting in front of a Nintendo 64 went viral on Twitter when someone posted it with the proclamation, “i want to live in this era.” It looked like it was taken somewhere around the turn of the millennium, judging from the Guns N’ Roses poster, the pinup shot of Leonardo DiCaprio circa The Basketball Diaries, and other cultural detritus crowding the frame. There was an impressive amount of agreement in the replies, alongside bemusement from those unprepared to discover the mundane stuff of their particular youth being romanticized by people who hadn’t been born at the time. And then someone pointed out that there was album art on the wall from 2013. The image, it turns out, was the work of a blogger and Instagrammer who takes faux-vintage pictures of herself and was likely from 2020, not 1998. This revelation didn’t dispel its nostalgic pull — if anything, it just explained its potency. What does the actual past have on the past as an aesthetic, as a generic shared memory rather than something specific?
I thought about that photo a lot during Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which is an homage to and continuation of the 1984 Ghostbusters that painstakingly mines that movie for props, lines, and characters while giving no indication of being aware of what it was like to actually watch. It’s loving in the way that having an obsessive crush on someone you’ve never spoken to could be called loving. It’s one of the most ghoulish things I’ve ever seen, and, in a nefarious way, ingenious, because it understands that when people insist they want something true to a beloved original work of entertainment, what they actually mean is that they want to be returned to how they felt at the time. It’s why Ghostbusters is a dirtbag comedy set in Manhattan and Afterlife is an utterly unengaging Amblin-esque coming-of-age story that takes place in the small town of Summerville, which may have a haunted mine but also has an honest-to-God roller hop with a neon sign glowing in the midst of a landscape dotted with cornfields.
Technically, Summerville is in Oklahoma, but it might as well be an outpost in the kingdom of Americana for how often it’s shown bathed in golden mid-afternoon light. Afterlife is assiduously apolitical in its content, yet it also instinctively understands that the pop-culture nostalgia it’s peddling is of a kind with that desire to restore some fabled idyllic period that haunts national discourse. They both reach yearningly back toward something that was never really there, whether it’s Mayberry or the idea of Ghostbusters as a children’s classic, as opposed to a movie that people watched as children while the adults in the room winced through the ghost blow-job sequence and attempted to explain what the EPA did. Tellingly, the kids in Afterlife — Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), the grandchildren of the late Harold Ramis’s Egon Spengler, and pals Podcast (Logan Kim, whose character, yes, has a podcast) and Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) — don’t inherit their roles of new ghostbusters so much as they seize them from under the noses of unappreciative or oblivious adults.