Fantasia 2019 Review: EXTRA ORDINARY Is A Ghostbusting Gutbuster

Busting ghosts ever so gently.

Extra Ordinary opens with a somewhat goofy VHS tape of a fictional paranormal TV series - an opening that suggests we’re in for another throwback ghost movie, or a genre parody along the lines of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. But that’s not Extra Ordinary. Instead, the film jumps forward to the present day, where the show host’s daughter Rose apologises to her father’s grave, for what’s implied to be the umpteenth time, for the accidental death she caused. His death, specifically. Clearly, Rose has issues with bereavement, and they’re only exacerbated by her inheritance of her father’s connection to the beyond-realm.

Scooting around in the tiny car she uses to teach newbie drivers, Rose can see paranormal activity everywhere, but wants little to do with it. She’s content to live out her humble driving-instructor life, even if she’s not entirely content with her perpetual singledom. So when neighbour and widower Martin Martin (what a name!) comes knocking with ghost woes of his own, and Satan-worshipping rock star Christian Winter’s search for virgin sacrifices begins to threaten their small Irish town, the stage is set for a supernatural buddy comedy with a rather distinct flavour.

Extra Ordinary revolves almost entirely around Maeve Higgins’ lead performance as Rose. A comedian, author, and podcaster, but self-admittedly not an actor per se, Higgins delivers a performance that essentially mirrors her own personality and manner. Indeed, the film was written specifically for her, resulting in something that might as well be entitled Maeve Higgins: Ghostbuster. Whether or not that appeals to you will depend on whether Higgins' quiet, self-effacing observational comedy does. Our Fantasia Film Festival audience clearly loved her in the role, as did I: nearly every line out of her mouth is relatable and witty, and she's the perfect vessel for this down-to-earth haunting tale.

Barry Ward, as Martin, provides strong balance to Higgins’ quirkiness. For the most part, he plays the straight man, increasingly perplexed and exasperated with his interactions with the other side. In the second half of the movie, though, Ward almost completely transforms in performance style, his character becoming the host for ghosts who essentially puppeteer his body as their own. Switching wildly between characters, Ward is absolutely hilarious as the film builds and builds.

Filling out the main characters is a surprise appearance by Will Forte, as Christian Winter, whose participation in the film not only provides it with an "in" Stateside but a completely bonkers villain in the process. Modeled on any number of eccentric, occult-obsessed musicians, Forte’s performance here is among his silliest, gurning and shouting as he attempts to Satan-worship his way to a comeback album. It’s so over-the-top, particularly when compared to Higgins’ understated lead, that it feels out of place - but perhaps that’s in keeping with the American character’s place in sleepy small-town Ireland.

“Small-town” is certainly an apt descriptor for Extra Ordinary itself, but “sleepy” is not. Infused with quirky indie energy, the movie is light and funny, even - or especially - when dipping into its well of horror influences. Some family tragedy lurks under the surface to give weight to the characters, but for the most part, this is a lively and constantly amusing comedy that’s full of personality. Even the romantic-comedy elements are delivered with a commitment to reversing expectations: the delightfully clumsy relationship between Rose and Martin is kept sweet and awkward right up until the final frame.

Charmingly, the visual effects here mostly centre on the likes of household objects moved around with (digitally erased) string, but that’s absolutely a creative decision, not a budgetary one. Generally speaking, the Extra Ordinary take on ghosts is, well, extra ordinary, with even ectoplasmic goo taking a form with hilariously cringe-inducing familiarity. By the time the movie reaches its climax, it goes fully demonic in its own way, with full-on VFX work that delivers the film’s biggest spectacle as well as some of its best laughs. Rarely have I seen an audience so ecstatically roaring with laughter as in the ending of this movie. 

Between its silly premise, adorable characters, distinctive sense of humour, and knowing nods to more serious horror, Extra Ordinary is a crowd-pleasing ghost comedy with a truly original voice. It’s worth seeing for Higgins’ lead performance alone, but there’s a lot more to love around that turn. Extra Ordinary may be Enda Loughman and Mike Ahern’s feature debut, but if it reaches the audience it deserves to, we can expect a lot more from them in the years ahead.