Accepting the central conceit that ghosts are all around us in our everyday lives, Extra Ordinary mixes a strong cocktail of paranormal activity, the occult, and gross-out humor. In their feature debut, directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman take a stab at the horror-comedy genre, and ultimately wind up with a funny riff on The Exorcist and satanic rituals. Though uneven and eventually finding itself going through the motions in order to move the narrative forward, Ahern and Loughman inject enough humor and style into Extra Ordinary to make the film an enjoyable, haunted romp through rural Ireland — as well as provide ample reason to put star Maeve Higgins into every comedy.
After the death of her father, Rose (Higgins) hangs up her hat as a medium and becomes a driving school instructor. Living alone, she quickly finds herself attracted to Martin (Barry Ward), a widowed father who still finds himself living with his deceased wife. Now possessing the entirety of their home, Martin enlists the help of Rose to help rid their house of his wife, and also save his daughter — who is now a floating body being prepared for a satanic ritual, with the motivations and culprit unknown to either of the two. However, the audience is well aware of who is behind it, as they see Christian Winters (Will Forte) attempt to revive his music career after reaching the peak of his fame as a one-hit wonder, utilizing the power of Satan.
What follows is a fairly standard story of a gifted person realizing that their gifts can be used for good, and they not as useless as previously believed. Despite its plot lacking any real substance, Extra Ordinary leans far heavier on its comedic side than its horror premise. Even if it ultimately goes for broke by the end with some ingenious writing and heavy use of a special effects budget, the horror itself is mostly just played for laughs. This is mostly evident in Will Forte’s character — a man-child resorting to Satanism in order to revive a dead career. As a villain, Forte delivers a one-note performance that still manages to be humorous throughout the entirety of Extra Ordinary. However, he’s stacked against Maeve Higgins, who carries the lackluster plot to a much more entertaining outcome. Her comedic timing alone triumphs greatly over much of the cast, even when Barry Ward’s character is forced to do multiple performances as different characters possessing him.
Entertaining though it is, a lot of the logic does completely fall apart once a joke seems like it can be made, which is largely why Extra Ordinary does not appear interested in its horror. It’s not as cleverly written as something like Tucker and Dale Vs Evil or Housebound, but still provides plenty of humor within the framework of a horror film. However, not until the finale do a lot of the jokes act as subversions to basic horror tropes. Those moments are both funny in premise, but also start picking away at the logic established at the beginning of the film. At that point, Ahern and Loughman focus heavily on keeping the film’s heart and jokes in place while catering to the audience’s horror needs. This is when Extra Ordinary works best, but it takes a while of meandering through vignettes of possessions to get to that point.
Endlessly charming and endearing, Extra Ordinary doesn’t really need to be more than it is. It scratches a lot of itches for horror fans, and makes a great star vehicle for Higgins, who absolutely shines. With its core concept of ghosts being able to possess anything and everything, the film very clearly would work better as a haunting-of-the-week television show than a feature film, but it is a humorous movie in which anyone can find something to enjoy, even if it doesn’t necessarily work as a whole.
The 2019 Toronto After Dark festival runs from October 17-25.