The original Ghostbusters offered a mix of comedy and supernatural horror that’s never going to be recaptured. Even with a growing cult following, Ghostbusters II lives in the shadow of its predecessor. Despite being the most despised movie on the internet for a period, the 2016 reboot wasn’t awful. It just wasn’t a movie meant for longtime fans. Contemporary kids seemed to be the target audience, shying away from the horror angle while keeping the humor tame. Although the central characters are younger, Ghostbusters: Afterlife was made for nostalgic fans. Older children will still have fun, but Jason Reitman knows his demographic: fellow 80s kids.
This doesn’t mean Afterlife is the version of Ghostbusters III that hardcore fans have always wanted. That ship sailed even before the great Harold Ramis passed away in 2014. Considering the bumpy journey the franchise has endured, though, Afterlife is more fun than it has any right to be. It’s also surprisingly emotional in parts, honoring Ramis and the OG Ghostbusters crew. After the toothless 2016 film, Afterlife brings back the scares as well. Occasionally, it even calls Close Encounters, Poltergeist, and Gremlins to mind. What’s missing is the laugh-out-loud factor that made the original stand out.
Although she only gets fourth-billing, Mckenna Grace is the film’s true star. Grace plays Phoebe, a socially awkward girl with a passion for science. Following the death of her grandfather, Phoebe relocates to his farmhouse with her broke mother (Carrie Coon) and brother (Finn Wolfhard). It isn’t long until Phoebe starts noticing paranormal activity around the farm, stumbling upon an old ghost trap. Her findings catch the attention of her teacher (Paul Rudd) and a young podcaster named… Podcast (Logan Kim). They discover that the town is a hot zone for ghosts, and the end of the world may be upon them.
Many have labeled Afterlife as Ghostbusters’ answer to Stranger Things, right down to Wolfhard’s casting. The comparison isn’t unwarranted, but the Ghostbusters lore goes well with Stranger Things’ blend of nostalgia and mystery. Even before Stranger Things, Afterlife co-writer Gil Kenan perfected the creepy 80s throwback with Monster House. Afterlife gives the franchise a much-needed dose of darkness, but it doesn’t go for the belly laughs. There’s a humorous sequence involving mini Stay Puft Marshmallow Men and a joke about a triangle so corny that you can’t help but crack up. Without Bill Murray’s constant improvisations, though, Afterlife feels more like a sci-fi adventure than a comedy.
What earns the film an extra star is the final act, which at first, seemed like it might be the weakest part. After the first two-thirds strived to distinguish themselves from past films, the climax begins to tread on all-too familiar-territory. The film sticks the landing, though, with a touching salute to the past while also looking to the future. It’s pure fan service, but considering that fans have been waiting over thirty years, the resolution hits the sweet spot. Afterlife could serve as a fitting conclusion to the Ghostbusters legacy, although you know Sony will never let a franchise die. Whether or not Afterlife breathes new life into the series, bustin’ hasn’t felt this good since 1984.