‘Ghosts of War’ jumps from one genre to another numerous times throughout its 90-minute duration. It’s a war drama in the first scene, a horror in the second, and you get a science fiction in the third. While the movie is mostly presumable because of how the director embeds jump scares and traditional war film tropes, the final twist is extremely surprising. It imparts complex aspects to the otherwise conventional film and makes it quite interesting.
Caution! SPOILERS AHEAD.
Ghosts of War Plot Synopsis
In 1944, at the verge of World War II, five US soldiers, Chris (Brenton Thwaites), Kirk (Theo Rossi), Eugene (Skylar Astin), Tappert (Kyle Gallner), and Butchie (Alan Ritchson), step forward through the French countryside towards their newest mission, which is to watch a mansion until further notice. Before the Allied forces take possession, the house has been used by the Nazi high command. When they reach there, they realize that the members of the squad that they are supposed to replace at the mansion seem drugged and can’t wait to get out of there.
This puzzles Chris and his men. The supplies are full, and the palatial house holds every comfort and luxury possible. When they question the other crew, the answers they receive are ambiguous and inconvincing. They are easily able to determine the real reason for the previous group’s hurried departure. The house is possessed by the spirits of its original owners, a family of four, who were killed by the Nazi probably because they were giving shelter to Jewish people.
The son (Kaloyan Hristov) was drowned and daughter, Christina (Yanitsa Mihailova) hanged. The father, Mr. Helwig (Shaun Toub), was bathed with kerosene and burnt alive in front of his wife (Laila Banki). The five American soldiers start receiving odd messages like “I have no legs” through Morse codes.
Butchie Warns Everyone Before Dying
Later, a demonic voice screams at them that if they try to leave, they will lose their lives. One night, the Nazis try to take back the mansion. Although the attack fails, Butchie is mortally wounded after trying to save others by falling on a grenade.
Before Butchie dies, he repeatedly yells, “This isn’t real,” “It was us,” and Remember”. The remaining soldiers try leaving the mansion. But, they realize they can’t, as they always end up on the same routes. They return to the mansion, hoping that performing the last rites of the dead Helwig family will exempt them of the loop. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. The ghosts attack them. However, suddenly, the ghosts start glitching, and Chris wakes up in the real world.
Ghosts of War Ending
In the end of this supernatural horror film , it turns out that none of the things that Chris and his men suffered through until that time in the film is real. They are modern soldiers who were posted in Afghanistan. During a mission to get a high-value informant, they all experienced serious injuries and have been in a drug-induced coma since. They were placed in a World War II simulation to help them heal psychologically and mentally.
Chris and others are kept in an off-the-record facility. Dr. Engel is the man in charge. He is also playing the role of a Nazi major in the simulation, whom the American soldiers encounter and kill. What Dr. Engel and his team failed to notice is that the subconscious minds of the injured soldiers will keep reminding them that the simulation isn’t real. The Morse code about not having legs is Chris’ subconscious making him recall that his legs had to be cut off after the mission. Kirk trying to scratch his legs is the result of a phantom itch, as his legs were also amputated.
Butchie’s Self-Sacrifice Woke Him Up From The Coma
As Chris reaches to the correct point, the demonic voice on the radio is not a threat but a warning, which tells them if they leave the simulation, they will die. Butchie’s self-sacrifice during the German attack was stimulating enough to wake him up from the coma. The fact that he gets injured during the Afghanistan mission while doing the very thing must have also helped him in his awakening. As per Dr. Engel, Butchie died after seeing his physical condition, but before he did, he tried to make others recall all the happenings.
The Vetrulek Curse
Because it is a simulation, the soldiers find themselves running in circles. The German soldier’s diary that Eugene finds appears blank at first to Chris for the same reason. As their real life memories begin to interfere with the simulation, the text in the diary suddenly becomes Arabic, and the Helwigs, an Afghan family. In the film, Vetrulek is an ancient Islamic curse given by a victim of an atrocity. It is towards people who remain standing and do nothing.
The Curse Gives ‘Ghosts Of War’ A Theological Angle:
Although it is completely fictional, made up just for the film, it gives the horror side of ‘Ghosts of War’, a theological angle. In Afghanistan, the group’s aim was to shift a physician and his family to a secure location in Kabul. The intel the doctor provided helped the seizure of some of the top leaders of ISIS in the country. However, the terrorists discovered that he was involved with the American forces. They show up right before the extraction, forcing the team and the physician’s CIA handler to halt the mission.
They hid and watched helplessly the Afghan family being killed, in the same way as the Helwigs. After the terrorists left, the team came out of hiding. Thereafter, the mother ran towards them, with an explosive in her hands. The ensuing explosion is the reason behind their current conditions. Before she dies, she employs them with Vetrulek curse. It has followed them into the simulation, torturing and punishing them because they didn’t protect the Afghan family.
Return to the Simulation
After getting his memories back, Chris realizes what is happening and persuades the doctors to put him back into the simulation, so he can save his crew. Henceforth, he loses all his real-world memories during the switch and wakes up in the same forest as the first scenes, with the same stranger covered in shadows watching him, and Chris asking, “What do you want?.’
The simulation versions of the team members are all resting in the same loop pattern as their real-life equivalents. Evidently, the simulation has started again. For his memories are all wiped, Chris doesn’t realize this, and has to relive the horrors of this digital hell once more along with his friends.