By Jake Watt
10th August 2019

Horror-comedy has long been a polarising genre. While some horror purists prefer their films driven by serious auteurs, some comedy nuts just can’t stomach the gore most comedy/horror hybrids relish. It’s an easy genre to identify, but a difficult one to sell to skeptics. The blending of seemingly oppositional genres, however, makes sense from a physical standpoint. That is, laughter is often associated by psychologists to being a byproduct of surprise - feeling thrilled or startled. From classics like Mel Brooks' ‘Young Frankenstein’ and John Landis' ‘An American Werewolf in London’ to modern hits like Edgar Wright's ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and Jon Wright's 'Grabbers', horror comedies combine chills and tension with perfectly timed laughs, making them highly entertaining.

Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman’s ‘Extra Ordinary’ centres on Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins), the owner of Rose’s Driving School in a rural Irish town. Not only is she a driving instructor who speaks as if she’s constantly adlibbing her dialogue, but she’s also a spiritual medium who stopped using her psychic talents following the untimely death of her father. "What do you call it when you kill your dad anyway? Dadslaughter?" Rose’s heavily pregnant sister Sailor (Terri Chandler) asks. "I’m sorry for slaughtering you, daddy," Rose murmurs, sadly.

Rose's dad was a paranormal expert on the TV (there are shades of David Lowery’s superior ‘Ghost Stories’) who tried to explain to the masses that ghosts aren't how we typically think of them. "Do you ever have any nightmares after eating cheese? You might have eaten a ghost. Even the weakest ghost can possess cheese easily due to the living bacteria in the cheese," he intones on one of Rose's VHS tapes.


Ghost are "stuck people, lonely people". Tree branches twitch strangely in her direction and trashbin lids flap at her (the visual effects mostly centre on things being tugged around by digitally erased strings), but Rose ignores them all.

Things change when Christian Winter (Will Forte, ‘Booksmart’, ‘The Lego Movie’), a washed-up, one-hit-wonder American rock star (his second single 'I Like My Hat' flopped on the charts), makes a pact with the devil in return to his former glory. He puts a hex on a virginal local teenager, Sarah Martin (Emma Coleman), which leads her father Martin Martin (Barry Ward, 'The Survivalist') to seek Rose’s help in an effort to save his daughter. He’s also being haunted by his dead wife, who writes messages on pieces of toast in order to remind him to pay the bills. Rose must use her powers to work with Martin to break free of his wife’s controlling poltergeist and rescue the girl. This involves vomiting a lot of ectoplasmic goo into jars.

The plot lumbers along as the script (by Ahern, Loughman, Higgins, and Demian Fox) gets sidetracked by many moments of whimsical Irishness from the Irish ghosts who have nitpicking concerns to alleviate before they can move on.

Martin has a few psychic gifts of his own, namely the power to channel the spirits by letting them possess his body. He combines his abilities with Rose's to allow the lingering dead to get some closure (somewhat similar to Nick Whitfield’s ‘Skeletons’). This allows the talented Ward to spin from the nebbish love interest into a slew of kooky characters, including a dirty old man obsessed with his recycling bin and Martin’s hard-smoking, nagging former wife. Ward is genuinely impressive as he cycles through these different personas, grounded by Higgins’ enthusiastic engagement with each. Both play mild-mannered folk who tend to fall into the role of doormat to more demanding people, be it a bullying ghost-wife, a brash sibling, or a boastful dad. But together, these wallflowers blossom, discovering their strengths and the power of true partners.

Unless you watch it while high on some canna-buttered popcorn, can you really call a film a horror-comedy if it isn’t scary and only sporadically funny?

There’s a reason you’ve never seen Will Forte topping the billing of a major motion picture - it’s the throbbing flameball of unfunny that was ‘MacGruber’. Obviously I’m not a Forte fan, but he initially seems perfectly cast in ‘Extra Ordinary’ as a floundering master of the dark arts, contorting his voice into silly squeals that turn sinister incantations into punchlines. Unfortunately, there’s not much more there. Forte’s sub-Will Ferrell weirdo schtick is fun at first but eventually feels like it’s woefully out of sync with the rest of the movie. While Higgins and the Irish ensemble are offering a brand of comedy that’s whimsical and warm, Forte is broadly hammy at best and painful at worst. This conflict in tone might have been intended to emphasise the contrast between the heroes and villains, but it mostly feels dissonant. Christian’s bullying wife, played by Australian comic Claudia O’Doherty ('The Festival'), is even worse - her role involves little beyond screeching.

Writer/directors Ahern and Loughman are clearly passionate filmmakers and, at its best, ‘Extra Ordinary' is a tale of self-discovery alive with twee humour and a clumsy romance. The tough thing about genre hybrids is that they have to fulfill both genres, and 'Extra Ordinary' only occasionally nails one of them. Unless you watch it while high on some canna-buttered popcorn (see my review of ‘Here Comes Hell’), can you really call a film a horror-comedy if it isn’t scary and only sporadically funny?

Despite an impressive performance from Barry Ward, this film is way too uneven - with a wonky tone, hit-and-miss jokes, some grating acting, and too many slapstick sight gags - to be anything more than merely ordinary.

Looking for more Melbourne International Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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