Lonnie returns home to Empire Prairie, the desolate little town where he once grew up. Where his drunk father and younger brother still live. But when Lonnie returns home there's no family reunion, there's only trouble brewing.
Where some filmmakers like Rob Zombie bring out the south in a rather cinematic, exaggerated way, Blake Eckard shows it exactly how it is. He doesn't butter it up. What you see feels uncomfortably real, and there's a reason for it. He doesn't make good and bad people, he makes people. He puts them in a real setting and let them communicate. There's most certainly intrigue and a script, but it's subtle and creeping out at you. Sometimes it's a friendlier experience, like "Backroad Blues", but sometimes it gets unnerving like in "Bubba Moon Face". And it's all so easy to relate to. Even out in the country here in Sweden I can relate to how people behave and simply how things are in Blake Eckard's movies. That's why "Sinner Come Home" and "Bubba Moon Face" worked so well, and that's exactly what kept me excited that I was given the chance to watch "Ghosts of Empire Prairie".
Ryan Harper Gray returns to Blake Eckard's world, this time as Lonnie Enright who returns to him home town Empire Prairie. It's a small place, calling it a town is even pushing it. Lonnie leaves his girlfriend to go back for a while. Back home, Lonnie has his drunk-ass asshole of a father and his loser brother, and his return is stirring up drama in the family.
"Ghosts of Empire Prairie" offers exactly what I've come to expect from Blake Eckard. Not in a bad way, but because he has found his style and it's oddly rare. The atmosphere of the movie is very uncomfortable. Though not that much happens in terms of plot, there's a lot going on within our characters when Lonnie comes back to stir shit up. The longer he stays, the more shit's going on, slowly growing darker and more mean-spirited. Its redneck, don't-give-a-shit, hand-me-a-beer atmosphere really works for me, I'm instantly locked in.
I like that we're not watching the movie from Lonnie Enright's perspective. We're not there to pat him on the back. He's a sly and egotistical ass, just like most people in the movie. Hell, just like most people in real life. We're left on our own to decide who we want to care for, and in my case I had the most care for the little brother. It's interesting to be left on your own as a viewer, it's a style I appreciate a lot more than being forced to love someone I never would like in real life. Some movies do this. I understand that if you follow a bad person long enough, you get sympathy for him because you see what makes him tick, what makes him the bad person. But "Ghosts of Empire Prairie" has a different style altogether, it's not a personal portrait. It's the portrait of the people in Empire Prairie. Blake Eckard successfully gets that through to us.
"Ghosts of Empire Prairie" isn't my favorite of the Blake Eckard movies, "Bubba Moon Face" still takes the cake. But this is pretty tied with "Sinner Come Home". You need to keep in mind that this is a very independent and rough movie. It's not flashy, it's not about the grand production. It's about character drama and portrayal, and this is the strength of the movie. The story isn't remarkable at all. Hadn't the characters been so well-written and beautifully acted, this would have been a complete waste. Luckily that's what Blake Eckard and his cast (Ryan Harper Gray, Jon Jost, Frank Mosley and the rest of the gang) do so well. In the role of the father we see prolific independent filmmaker Jon Jost, who started making movies back in the 70s, which is an interesting side-note. If you're interested in the work of Black Eckard you should start with either this or "Bubba Moon Face". If they don't interest you, then this isn't for you. If they do, then you're in for a treat because it doesn't seem like he will stop making these movies anytime soon.