‘Ghost Wars’ is nail-biting entertainment for a scary world
The world is a scary place, especially if you watch cable news or spend any time on Twitter – and it seems to grow scarier every day.
But what do you do if you’re intent on creating a horror series for audiences who want to be scared but also live in this scary world of ours?
If you’re showrunner Simon Barry, you stare down those societal fears and mine them for dramatic, and terrifying, effect.
On Ghost Wars – which hits Netflix on March 2 after an initial run on Syfy last year – Barry and his writing team strove “to tap into some of the themes that are important in terms of our world and the way it exists right now: themes like perspective and bias, which are really prevalent because of the way we absorb the truth, and how everyone decided to create their own truth,” he says in a recent phone interview.
The Vancouver-shot series stars Avan Jogia (Twisted) as Roman Mercer, an outcast in a remote Alaskan town who must call upon his repressed psychic abilities when paranormal forces threaten to do some scary shit in the world of the living.
“We’re tapping into that idea that everyone has their own agenda, and everyone has their own dogma, and so because our show revolves around characters who each have a discipline either in science or religion or the paranormal or just straight-up practical humanism, we get to see a microcosm of the world’s relationship with the truth,” says Barry, whose time-travel procedural Continuum was similarly inspired by acutely real-world themes like government responsibility and revolution. “Ours obviously doesn’t have the weight of politics in terms of philosophy, but it definitely deals with the politics of people.”
That might sound like heavy material, but Ghost Wars is also heavy on fun, dammit. Barry was inspired by the horror movies of John Landis, John Carpenter, and Sam Raimi “where, even though the worlds felt legit, there was also this idea that, yes, this is an incredible situation, and the characters within that situation could really express all kind of emotion and have fun, and the show could have fun with that, too,” says Barry.
Ghost Wars shot on location throughout the GVRD in summer 2017, with the interior sets – including the town’s bar, church, houseboat, and laboratory – located in the sprawling old Canada Post depot on Georgia Street.
Barry describes Ghost Wars’ initial 13 episodes (which he likens to 13 mini-movies, each one brimming with twists and tonal shifts) as “manic, in a good way. On the one hand, it’s definitely squarely a paranormal horror show, but there’s a huge streak of dark comedy and character-driven storytelling that’s secondary to the horror and the ghost plot that really makes the show well-rounded in the sense that it’s not one-note, ever. It definitely transcends genre. It definitely transcends the repetitive pattern of horror where they try to do the same thing week in, week out.”
Ghost Wars’ cast is as diverse as Barry’s description of the show. There’s Meat Loaf (yes, that Meat Loaf) as Doug, a tyrannous handyman. Motive star Kristin Lehman plays the town doctor. Vincent D’Onofrio appears as Reverand Dan, a Catholic priest. Kim Coates is Billy, a roguish smuggler in the vein of Han Solo (except Billy's Millennium Falcon is a fishing boat). There’s also a who’s who of the Vancouver acting scene: Luvia Petersen; Sharon Taylor; Sonja Bennett; Jesse Moss; Ryan Robbins; Maddie Phillips; Kandyse McClure; Zak Santiago; Philip Granger.
“The idea that you would have Vincent D’Onofrio and Kim Coates even in the same scene is kind of for me half the fun of the show,” marvels Barry. “Every actor that we’ve cast has really brought their personal take to these characters that has nothing to do with the world of the show, and that just enriches the world of the show, so you do feel that there’s a real spectrum of personalities, of beliefs, of styles that really enhances the layers of the show’s perspectives and approach to entertainment.”
If that spectrum of personalities sounds like a small town, that’s by design, says Barry. “Because this story is about a small town ultimately, we really like the diversity of performances and diversity of approaches, because that’s what a small town is: when you go to a small town, there are these prototypical personalities in each town, and having a cast as diverse and different as ours from all kinds of levels – stylistically, experience – it really helps create that small town feel.”
Not that we’d like to live in that particular haunted town – or even visit it, for that matter – but we’re sure as hell excited to watch the horror unfold from the relative safety of our screens.