This surprisingly fun, intriguing B movie mashup keeps you on your toes with ghosts, a mystery, appealing characters, and social commentary, all set in the atmospheric, post-Civil War American West. Directed by Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne Long and written by married couple Long and co-star Perry, Ghosts of the Ozarks hits just the right tone and has a fitting level of low-key ingenuity; it's clever, but not too clever. It starts well, with James lost in the woods; thanks to Hobson's humility, we instantly like him, and his likability crisply contrasts with the evil in the woods.
This balance continues throughout the movie, as even the weirder characters eventually win our sympathy. For example, Nelson's bartender, with his unexpected Scandinavian accent, and his wife (Bettis, known for her many creepy characters in horror movies) are introduced through a strange parlor trick but eventually become two of the movie's most lovable characters. The setting is no doubt part of the movie's intrigue as well, contrasting traditional Western sets and props with the foreboding wall, which offers both protection and entrapment, and the creepy red fog and sinister figures beyond. Ghosts of the Ozarks is especially interesting for its suggestion of a utopia in which everyone, regardless of skin color or race, lives in harmony; there's plenty of dialogue about how the McCunes would unlikely be able to find work in the medical profession "out there." But, echoing the work of Shirley Jackson, the movie also demonstrates the cost of such peace, making for a fascinating conclusion.