Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire Director Wants To Make Kids Films Scary Again

2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife was billed as the franchise’s grand return to the Reitman family, with Jason taking over the directorial reigns from his father Ivan, who made the 1984 original.

Jason hasn’t returned behind the camera this time – although he remains a co-writer – and for director Gil Kenan, stepping up to make the first Ghostbusters movie after Ivan’s death was initially a daunting decision.

He told Zavvi: “There’s never a playbook you can follow with a Ghostbusters story; they’re all wild and unpredictable creations, each with their own challenges. But Jason stepped into the role of supportive producer to me in the way his father was for him on Afterlife, and gave me the confidence to tackle this story in a way that would do justice to these characters.

“When we started writing together, the first thing he always told me was that the only way to do a Ghostbusters movie right is to keep the characters in focus, and the thing that excited us the most is the way we see Phoebe Spengler grow up.”

Set several years after the previous instalment, the Spengler family – and new stepfather Gary (Paul Rudd) – have moved to New York City, having moved into the abandoned firehouse and restarted the ghostbusting legacy. But daughter Phoebe (McKenna Grace) still feels like an outsider in the midst of all of this, developing a close friendship with a ghost named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), who she refuses to capture because she’s the only other person who understands what she’s going through.

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As they talk about not fitting in, and their conflicted relationships with their family, the movie begins to resemble a queer coming-of-age story, as two outcasts develop a close bond. Whilst Kenan wants to leave the nature of their friendship open to audience interpretation, he does believe this is the heart of Frozen Empire.

“Obviously, it’s a same sex friendship, and it’s a close one”, he continued.  “They’re at ages where you’re looking to discover more about yourself through the relationships you have, and for Phoebe, this arrives at a time when she’s questioning everything about herself, from her role in the family to her role as a Ghostbuster.

“There is a tragedy in the fact that the one person that she connects with is a ghost, but I hope there’s some playful irony in that as well. I have a daughter who’s 16, Jason has one who’s 17, and we know that there are no hang ups in their generation about the gender of the people you’re drawn to; but when that person is a ghost, then the distinction becomes really singular!

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“It was a dynamic that felt like a step forward in storytelling for this franchise.”

For Kenan, the aspect of the story that felt most personal for him was Gary’s arc, acclimatizing to his role as a father figure, and how that responsibility means sometimes having to be the bad guy.

“You don’t have to be a father to know that parenting comes with obstacles, but Gary’s struggle here is largely about finding his own definition of his relationship to these kids; he’s no longer their teacher, but he isn’t their father either, even though he needs to step into that role. It’s particularly poignant, even though it is happening at a time of major crisis for the city of New York!”

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The big threat the Spenglers, alongside the original 1984 ‘Busters, must fight this time is Garraka: a spirit who has broken out of its otherworldly prison, and is planning on raising an army of the dead to freeze over the world. Oh, and it’s main power? Turning anybody to ice immediately, causing them to shatter into tiny pieces upon impact.

There are some scenes in Frozen Empire that will give nightmares to any young kids watching, which is all by design, as Kenan wanted to conjure up memories of the movies he grew up loving, even as they gave him nightmares.

“I was thinking a lot about myself as a kid, where I’d be frightened by a lot of movies but still love every second of them. I’m proud that this is a scary Ghostbusters film, and the one with the most ghosts in it, but this only works, I hope, because you care enough about the characters to feel frightened for them.

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“When making this, I was thinking back to when I was a kid and first saw Ghostbusters. It rode that line of being a thrill ride rollercoaster, as well as having a threat that felt infinite and terrifying!”

The original Ghostbusters was first released on the same day as Gremlins, both of which gave children nightmares in-between the laughs and thrills. Both films have been touchstones for Kenan throughout his career – he previously made cult animated hit Monster House and 2015’s Poltergeist reboot – largely because he feels that today’s kids movies aren’t as scary as they used to be, and he singlehandedly wants to change that.

“I’ve been on a mission throughout my films to create a more full-dimensional experiences for young audiences, in creating true terror in something that would feel accessible to all audiences. Gremlins was a piece of magic in that sense, and I don’t think many films today are chasing the feeling that gave me.

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“I feel that in the 90s and 2000s, there started to be a pacification of the cinematic experience, where filmmakers worried too much about what young audiences can enjoy and what older ones can, building a regimented wall around both. It just devalues the intelligence of younger people; they don’t just comprehend suspense, but have a hunger for it.

“This pacification is still continuing to this day, and I feel that if you can make scary stories that don’t take children’s intelligence for granted, it will draw them to the big screen in a way that will create a lifelong relationship. Just look at me!”

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is in UK cinemas now.

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Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.