Can you name five great paranormal comedy movies released in the past decade? I’m drawing a blank. By my estimation, two of the best comedies about the spirit world were released back in the eighties – Ghostbusters (1984) and Beetlejuice (1988) – and there has been nothing to really rival them since then. Of course, if we were to broaden the search to include best horror comedies of the past decade then I would have to pick the 2014 vampire satire What We Do in the Shadows, written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and their subsequent FX TV series based on the film. If you are fans of those, you will probably get a kick out of Extra Ordinary (2019), a paranormal comedy from Ireland that is almost as witty, twisted and silly as anything the Clement-Waititi team can conjure up.
A debut feature from writer/directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman, Extra Ordinary has an oddball premise with several goofy subplots and a superb ensemble cast, most of whom are unknown to U.S. audiences. The film opens with a VHS clip from an old TV show, “Exploring the Extraordinary,” hosted by ghost expert Vincent Dooley (Risteard Cooper) as he poses the question, “Do you have nightmares after eating cheese?” Well, it is probably due to ghosts. “Even the weakest ghost,” Dooley states, “can possess cheese easily due to the living bacteria in the cheese.”
We soon learn that Dooley died many years ago after an exorcism gone wrong due to a mistake made by his daughter/partner Rose (Maeve Higgins). Ever since she has been trying to distance herself from her paranormal past and create a new life for herself as a driving instructor in a small rural village. Enter Martin Martin (Barry Ward), a recent widower living with his daughter, who is also trying to resume a normal existence but his deceased wife is making it difficult. Her ghost continues to lay out clothes for him to wear, burn messages into the toast like “Dog has worms” and toss unhealthy snacks like donuts into the garbage before he can eat them.
People in the village continue to hound Rose for psychic favors (Can you find my car keys?) since they know her past and soon she is drawn back into the occult business and charged with helping Martin exorcise his meddling former spouse. Their paths soon cross with another couple in the village, former pop star Christian Winter (Will Forte) and his wife Claudia (Claudia Winter), who live in a massive castle nearby. Christian once had a major hit with the single “Cosmic Woman” but his follow-up tunes were all duds such as “I Like My Hat” and he is trying to break the curse of being a one-hit wonder. To accomplish that, he has immersed himself in the black arts and is trying to ignite his creativity through virgin sacrifices.
To say much more might spoil some of the nutty twists and turns Extra Ordinary takes on its journey to solving Rose’s guilt over her father’s death and Martin’s occult dilemma. There are certainly some in-jokes and homages to Ghostbusters as well as The Exorcist along the way. There is also an ample amount of sexual humor plus icky effects like exploding sheep and ectoplasm vomiting. The fact that everything is treated in a deceptively casual, lo-fi manner makes the film even more disarming and quirky.
Ahern and Loughman wisely cast Maeve Higgins in the role of Rose and she makes a delightfully unconventional heroine, one who is chubby, upbeat and unfailingly polite in the most trying circumstances. She sets the perfect off-kilter tone for the entire film as if she were a contemporary take on Margaret Rutherford. For example, we see her arrive home after a training session, immediately go the refrigerator while dropping her skirt on the floor, grab a snack and eat it while exercising on her workout ball. Rose also sees evidence of the supernatural in her day to day routine – possessed appliances, trashcan lids flapping, tree branches waving and pedestrians appearing as figures in white sheets. She finds all of this annoying but accepts it as her cross to bear.
Matching Higgins in both comic timing and screen charisma is Barry Ward as Martin, who actually has the more challenging role since he is periodically possessed by specific ghosts along with their peculiar vocal mannerisms. One of the funniest sequences occurs when Martin’s tough, chain-smoking former wife takes over his body and gets stuck in limbo.
Will Forte, who is best known for his appearances on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, has some funny bits as the bumbling pop star villain but his performance feels a bit broad and theatrical compared to his co-stars. Claudia O’Doherty as his impatient, constantly annoyed wife actually gets more laughs with scene stealing moments such as interrupting Christian’s all-important satanic rite with a Chinese food delivery.
A few of the jokes may fall flat occasionally but for the most part Extra Ordinary breezes along at an enjoyable clip serving up wonderfully eccentric characters and situations. The special effects are intentionally hokey in most scenes but there are also some impressive set pieces, particularly the over-the-top climax in which the giant ghost devil emerges from the pit of hell. It all ends with the perfect fade-out song, a re-do of “Crimson and Clover” with new lyrics entitled “Black Magic.” Jarvis Cocker performs the song and gets a song writing credit along with the original authors, Tommy James and the Shondells.
Extra Ordinary is currently streaming on the Plaza Theater website at http://plazaatlanta.com. The film was scheduled to open this spring but the pandemic halted the normal distribution pattern so it lost the opportunity to attract a wide audience. It certainly deserves a better chance at being seen and if you have read this far, check it out.
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