For purposes of annoying my wife, I tried to think what it was that made ghost films I love — The Ring, The Sixth Sense, Lake Mungo, Paranormal Activity — so great. Thinking of The Ring and The Sixth Sense, I wanted to say it was a great story that powered the scares. But thinking of Mungo and Paranormal — which have very standard stories — I couldn’t support that. It’s not necessarily characters either, since Mungo doesn’t really have much in the way of characters. A good scary story can work without even these.
But the one thing that links all those excellent films is an intricate sense of the eerie way in which the past and the present intersect. Either by accident or design, the writers and directors of these movies seem to understand the truly haunted nature of the world, not as a psychological phenomenon, but as a real one. That’s why when those movies are over, you feel you’re not alone; you feel you’re being watched. Because you’re not; you are — all the movie did was remind you.
In my humble but annoyingly insistent opinion, Ti West would benefit immensely from giving himself a classical education in the form. He should take six months and stop watching the 80′s horror flicks he seems to love, and read through some old anthologies of M.R. James and E.F. Benson and the rest. He knows the camera angles and he delights in his people and his venues and he’s one step away from being a hugely successful ghost guy. But talent is not enough. He needs to teach himself what he’s talking about: why the world is haunted and why it’s actually scary. Then he’ll be golden.