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Clara’s Ghost Movie Review

Clara’s Ghost Review

By Lora Grady

Strife Spirit

The Elliott clan has been in showbiz for a long time. Scion Bob Elliot was part of the legendary comedy team of Bob and Ray, his son Chris Elliott made a name for himself as a supporting player on Late Night with David Letterman before segueing into a lengthy career as a quirky character actor, and Chris’s daughter Abby Elliott appeared for several seasons on Saturday Night Live. The family’s incisive insider knowledge of the entertainment industry provides a compelling backdrop for “Clara’s Ghost,” the new film from Bridey Elliot, an actress and neophyte director who’s taken the interesting if obvious tack of casting her father as her father, her sister as her sister, and yes, her mother as her mother in this comedy/drama/horror hybrid about a possible haunting.

The Reynolds family consists of dad Ted (Chris Elliott, How I Met Your Mother), an actor whose glory days are behind him, and daughters Julie (Abby Elliott, Odd Mom Out) and Riley (Bridey Elliott, “Battle of the Sexes“), former child actresses who are still recognized with sentimental glee by fans who heedlessly invade their personal space in search of selfies. Mom Clara (Paula Niedert Elliott), with no showbiz career, is the civilian in the family, unable to join in when the talk turns to grabby directors, incompetent producers, and who’s auditioning for what. She’s juggling two stressful projects: planning for Julie’s wedding, and researching the history of their house, a former resident of which wound up in an insane asylum. Is it any surprise that Clara has started seeing a ghost?


It’s the white-clad ghost of a young woman who beckons to her from nearby graveyards and peeks at her in a restaurant bathroom stall. As the Reynolds clan gathers at their big country house for the weekend and Clara’s feeling left out as usual, her ghost taps on the window and pleads, like something out of Wuthering Heights, “You can see me! Let me in!” As Ted and his daughters kibitz about their latest projects over many, many rounds of drinks, Clara grows increasing distracted. She tries to ground herself by connecting with Joe (Haley Joel Osment, Silicon Valley), the local pot dealer who drops by to make a delivery. And she keeps tossing out overtures to her family, who rebuff her with growing contempt as they tuck themselves away in a basement room and indulge in a drunken séance. When Clara finally stands outside the closed door and confesses to them, “I think I let something in…” it’s a surprisingly creepy moment.

There are a number of creepy moments here, popping up unexpectedly amidst the familiar comedy/drama rhythms of a dysfunctional family tale. Paula Elliott isn’t a polished actress, but her occasional awkwardness and off-kilter rhythms work well for her character, and she plays both the pathos and the scares to equal effect. Chris Elliott is creepy here for altogether different reasons, playing as he does against his standard persona of the out of touch but loveable weirdo. His Ted hides years of bitterness behind a thin mask of alcoholic bonhomie; he’s eaten up with jealousy over his daughters’ success. He snarks viciously at Clara, and savagely dismisses Abby’s performance when she shares an audition monologue that she’s been working on. The short scene is one of several throughout that rings true both on the competitive pettiness that can crop up between actors, and on the shifting expectations that can make navigating family life its own sort of hellish performance.

“Clara’s Ghost” is one of those films that doesn’t go where you expect it to, and although that leads it to end on an inconclusive note, it is engaging nonetheless. One might wish to see the antic disposition reigned in a bit – the playacting sometimes tips over into self-indulgence, and it is somewhat wearing to feel like an observer who’s not in on the joke. However, the effect does engender a certain empathy for Clara’s position, so perhaps it’s intentional. Overall, it’s a curiosity piece that will intrigue fans of the Elliott clan. Other viewers can watch it and breathe a sigh of relief that, however unbearable their family dynamic may occasionally seem, at least they’re not being haunted by it.

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