'A Ghost Story' Ending Explained: What Was Written On the Note?
You do what you can to make sure you're still around after you're gone.
Legacy is something David Lowery knows a thing or two about. He's well into crafting his own, having written and directed The Green Knight , Pete's Dragon , Ain't Them Bodies Saints , The Old Man and the Gun and the focus of this piece — A Ghost Story . Given the title, you'd be forgiven for mistaking A Ghost Story for a schlocky horror. Make no mistake though - it will haunt you. A unique exploration of existentialism and loss across infinite time, the film meditates on heavy themes, giving little away. The viewer must work for every morsel of information received, and form their own views on the meaning of what is given. We aren't even told the names of the characters - we know them simply as M and C.
When we meet M ( Rooney Mara ) and C ( Casey Affleck ) they are a happy couple moving into a new house. Soon we see the happiness fade and the couple argues over whether or not to move out of the house. M, who has moved around a lot as a child, wants to leave and C wants to stay citing the house's history as the reason he likes it so much. C finally agrees to leave and then the couple hear a loud clang from the piano. After searching and finding nothing they return to bed. Before they move out C is killed in a car accident. M visits him in the morgue and covers him with a sheet. He rises as a ghost, still covered in the sheet. After turning away from a bright light he finds his way back to their house and remains there, haunting M, until she decides to leave. We are not sure how long this is, as time is no longer a concept C is bound to now that he has passed death.
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While prepping the house for sale, M writes a note, leaves it in a crack, then paints over it. M has already discussed that she used to do this when she moved houses as a child, placing notes containing little things she wanted to remember around so that when she went back, there would be a little piece of her waiting. C watches her go, but chooses to stay behind. By the time he gets around to looking for the note, another family have moved in. C becomes much more like the ghosts we expected back when we thought this was a horror movie. Angered by the world moving on from him, he throws plates, flickers lights, and frightens the family into moving out.
Time starts to pass quicker now. Guests come and go from the house, and C keeps trying to pry the note from the crack. We only linger when one resident throws a party and a guest begins to deliberate on the futility of human legacy. What can humans do to ensure they are remembered beyond their short time on this plane of existence? Time will pass beyond anything a human can create, no matter how great - including time itself. Years drift on and the house is left in ruin. It is knocked down and replaced by a skyscraper. C attempts to leave this mortal coil and jumps off, only to find himself hurtling through time back to when the first stake was put in the ground by the original settlers. Centuries pass until C finds himself back in the house with M and his mortal self.
So we discover he is in a time loop. The history he felt the house had that he couldnt leave was his own ghostly presence haunting the couple. Eventually realising the mortal C's death is imminent, ghost C collapses in a heap upon the piano, causing the noise that we saw at the beginning of the film. C dies again, and ghost C watches as his younger ghostly self arrives again. Infinite loops are possible - will C ever be able to leave this place? He witnesses M leave the note again, but this time instead of watching her go, he immediately fishes out the note before the paint dries. He reads it and immediately vanishes, breaking out of the time loop, leaving only the sheet behind.
Ernest Hemingway said "Every man has two deaths, when he is buried in the ground, and the last time someone says his name. In some ways men can be immortal." This sentiment is echoed in A Ghost Story . We are kept alive in the memories of those who knew us and cared for us. The note keeps C alive beyond the passing of M, the memory of them embedded in the frame of the house. He is tied to this exact location in a physical way as well as a meta-physical way through the memories he created there. The cyclical nature of time means the ripples of grief and recollection echo throughout a longer period than the brief time a person is on the mortal coil.
But what is written on the note? We never see. Theories abound that it was the lyrics to the song C composed, a personal reminder of their love for each other, or possibly even a note saying she wouldn't be back. Ultimately, it doesnt really matter. What's important is that C eventually gets to read it, and find the closure he needed to vanish from his current state of existence and escape the time loop. His legacy has finally ended.
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‘a ghost story’ director david lowery explains that unsettling ending.
The director discusses Rooney Mara's mysterious piece of paper and Casey Affleck's haunting, yet spontaneous, final scene.
By Ashley Lee
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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for A Ghost Story . ]
The ending of A Ghost Story is quite loopy.
The A24 supernatural drama stars Casey Affleck as a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost who returns to his home to console his wife, played by Rooney Mara. However, he continues to haunt the location long after she has moved out and other homeowners take over. He even sticks around as the house is torn down and turned into a high-rise office building, off of which he manages to “kill himself.” The movie then loops him back to the past, when early settlers were living off the land that later became his suburban home.
The time loop continues into the film’s final scene, which sees the ghost watching himself watching his wife. “One version is the naïve ghost that still hasn’t figured out what he needs to be doing, and the other that’s sitting at the piano is the version that’s achieved some sort of clarity,” writer-director David Lowery explains to The Hollywood Reporter of the ending of the film, which first debuted to strong reviews at Sundance.
Though Lowery wrote the time loop into the first draft, he didn’t initially anticipate the unsettling shot with the two ghosts. “That was a spontaneous day on set that ended up being a very definitive and profound visual, and we could have kept it going!” he recalls. “We had done three takes of that shot, and then I thought, ‘When we shot this earlier for the first version, the ghost was standing at the window, so shouldn’t he be there? And if he could see the ghost next door, couldn’t he also see himself?’ I didn’t want to get too bogged down in rules, but it seemed like a nice visual reference to what’s happening. When we saw it on camera that day, we thought it really brought the movie home in a significant fashion.”
Before Mara’s character moves out of their home, she writes something on a small piece of paper, folds it up, inserts it into an opening in the wall and traps it there by painting over it. Affleck’s ghost spends much of the movie trying to retrieve her secret note.
Hiding something personal within a home is a regular ritual of Lowery’s. “The idea of leaving a little memento of yourself, for yourself, is something I’ve always been a fan of ever since I was a little kid — I’d bury time capsules in the backyard and scratch my initials into the beams of our house. Just knowing it was there made us feel more at home there and connected to the spaces we lived in,” he explains. “I’m always looking for ways to make a space my own. You can decorate and pick out wallpaper, but those things fade when you move out and someone else will change it. But finding a way to leave a little bit of yourself behind so that part of that house is always gonna be yours, that’s something I’ve always loved.”
At the end of the film, the ghost finally does retrieve his wife’s note, and upon reading it, he is free of the time loop and immediately disappears. However, what’s written down is never revealed to the audience. “We thought about whether or not we should show it, but it doesn’t matter as much as just knowing that he got it,” says Lowery. “Nothing written there would mean anything to the audience at that point, and it would just complicate that moment — you’d see something, process it, and then wonder what it means.”
‘a ghost story’: david lowery on directing casey affleck under a sheet and adding that kesha cameo.
So what did Mara actually write down on that piece of paper? As it turns out, nobody knows. Lowery put the placeholder “(We’ll probably see what it says)” in the script “because I didn’t want people to ask me about it yet, and I didn’t even know what to put.” While shooting the scene, he simply asked Mara to write down something that “felt personal and meaningful to her, the movie and her character.” What she wrote, folded and painted into the wall “went down with the house” in the demolition scene, and the note that Affleck’s ghost retrieves was shot with a different piece of paper (since logistically, Mara’s note was already deep inside the wall).
“None of us know what it said — I looked at the footage and you can’t see it, and Rooney says she doesn’t remember. I’m sure she knows and isn’t gonna say. And Casey has no idea, with the sheet he could barely see through,” laughs Lowery. “But it doesn’t matter. It could be something completely goofy. We always joked that it just says, ‘Boo.’”
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What Does the Note at End of ‘A Ghost Story’ Say? Twitter Has Theories
DP Andrew Droz Palermo shared an unused still from David Lowery’s movie and asked for suggestions
(Spoiler alert: Please do not read on if you haven’t watched a “A Ghost Story”)
In terms of ambiguous endings, the conclusion to David Lowery’s art house darling “A Ghost Story” is right up there with Bill Murray whispering unheard words into Scarlett Johansson’s ear in “Lost in Translation.”
Casey Affleck’s character, a ghost outfitted with a plain white bed sheet, spends much of the film trying to retrieve a tiny note left in the crack of a wall by his wife (Rooney Mara). When he finally finds it and reads it, he then vanishes. It’s a beautiful, profound, existential moment, sure, but we never get to see what the note says …
Thankfully, the director of photography on the film, Andrew Droz Palermo, provided a little clarity on Monday, revealing that the filmmakers never knew if the note would ever be seen in the film, but they had a Plan B just in case.
“We weren’t sure if we were ever going to show the note, so we shot an OTS with a blank note as a backup,” Palermo wrote on Twitter. “Here are my best guesses as to what it said, and the blank one for your own submissions.”
Palermo shared the blank image and encouraged the movie fans to go to work, and they didn’t disappoint. Some imagined it was the “Mister Police” line from “The Snowman,” a recent favorite meme of the Film Twitter community. Others recalled the infamous “Moonlight” and “La La Land” Best Picture debacle. And others recalled another meme-worthy scene from the film , in which Mara’s character spends an eternity sitting on the floor and eating an entire pie.
Lowery has clarified the significance of the note. He explained that hiding tiny mementos and time capsules is something he’s done since he was a kid. He had put a placeholder in the initial script, and Mara did write something down, but didn’t remember what it was, and neither Affleck nor the crew saw the note or were able to retrieve it after Mara put it in the wall of the house.
“We thought about whether or not we should show it, but it doesn’t matter as much as just knowing that he got it,” Lowery told The Hollywood Reporter . “Nothing written there would mean anything to the audience at that point, and it would just complicate that moment — you’d see something, process it, and then wonder what it means.”
Check out some of the best responses below:
pic.twitter.com/V3vUqBSZtv — Jason Gorber #tiff22 (@filmfest_ca) December 4, 2017
pic.twitter.com/UOhbdhZr8q — Jarfon Smorth (@acceptabledebut) December 4, 2017
Because "Hail Hydra!" is too obvious… pic.twitter.com/5c8N9H1fC7 — Raúl Fuentes ? (@oyefuentes) December 4, 2017
pic.twitter.com/4UAs5pUjk1 — Jason Gorber #tiff22 (@filmfest_ca) December 4, 2017
pic.twitter.com/zRHFBreGFW — buster tracy (@DrewMottram) December 4, 2017
pic.twitter.com/pgNbXJ79Vd — Jason Gorber #tiff22 (@filmfest_ca) December 4, 2017
@A24 pic.twitter.com/3hMPRfuZsU — Chris (@ItsChrisAguilar) December 4, 2017
Mister Ghost. pic.twitter.com/WUiUZjbl81 — Hubert Vigilla (@HubertVigilla) December 4, 2017
pic.twitter.com/3ZaAludaJK — Julian Sol Jordan (@JulianSolJordan) December 4, 2017
@A24 think this would have been a nice button. And I think Rooney would agree with this statement pic.twitter.com/eGHUtdevnG — Polly G (@TheyCalMePollyG) December 4, 2017
pic.twitter.com/VdyaoBEagH — Cormac (The Westman™) (@MythAddict) December 4, 2017
A Ghost Story Explained (Plot & Ending Explained)
A Ghost Story is not a horror movie. And no, this is not a spoiler. This is to ensure that you go watch it with the right expectation and aren’t left fuming. It is, however, a supernatural drama . The film stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara in the lead roles. The film is written, directed and edited by David Lowery. I found the film a little depressing, I think you are supposed to. However, this is not an article intending to review the film so let’s get down to the plot. Here’s the plot and ending of the movie A Ghost Story explained, spoilers ahead.
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A Ghost Story: Plot Explained
So, the lead characters in A Ghost Story never really call out to each other and they are credited as C (Casey) and M (Rooney). I’m going to run through the plot linearly . C and M are a married couple and move into a house. They seem to be a happy couple. They live in that house for a while. I could be wrong but C is shown to be a musician who is not very successful . He does produce music, even lets M listen to his compositions now and then, but hasn’t found commercial success as such. The scene where M listens to his entire song is a little inconclusive. M completes listening but leaves without much of a reaction or feedback. She tears up. Perhaps over time, she would like to move on from what they have been striving to do . A part of this includes moving out of the house. Also, M, as a little girl is used to moving houses regularly. However, C doesn’t want to move. He feels there is a history to the house – we’ll get to this later. Over time, he seems to have become mellow. Perhaps because his career is not taking off.
A Ghost Story: Lyrics of the song he composed:
Are you runnin’ late? Did you sleep too much? All the awful dreams felt real enough. Is your lover there? Is she wakin’ up? Did she die in the night and leave you alone? Alone. Mirror, mirror. There’s your crooked nose. What a stupid game. Getting nothing done with your longest track, your highest score, while you crush your back and lament the war. War. Am I runnin’ late? I get overwhelmed. All the awful dreams. All the bright screens. Is my lover there? Are we breakin’ up? Did she find someone else? And leave me alone. Alone.
Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and call that “not so cheerful”. Perhaps the reason for M’s reaction to the song. But the other thing that you do notice about the lyrics is that it talks about a couple breaking up, death, finding someone else, and being left alone. All of that (but for the breaking up) actually happens. I’ll get to a theory on why C might have written this but a little later on.
Eventually, C agrees to leave. Just then they hear a loud clang from the piano. They go to the living room to check. They can’t find anything. They go back to sleep. Again, we’ll get back to this scene later on . Soon, C meets with a car accident and dies. M goes to verify that the deceased is indeed her husband. M covers her dead husband’s body with the white sheets and leaves the hospital.
C wakes up as a ghost. He moves around the hospital without anyone noticing him, because, you know, he’s a ghost. Initially, a viewer could get confused with the depiction of this ghost with the sheets over its head . But C is dead and he’s now a ghost, we’ll call him Ghost-C . He approaches a wall with a light shining from within. This is probably the window to the afterlife. Ghost-C isn’t quite ready yet. He moves away from it and the window closes. Ghost-C makes his way back to the house.
Ghost-C sees M mourning the loss of C. We are shown a 4-minute scene of M eating a large pie. She’s not enjoying it. She’s just unable to cope with the loss of C. She eats so much that eventually, she vomits. She’s grieving, it’s a process. All the while, Ghost-C is right there watching.
Time passes. M goes about her days in a monotonous fashion. Ghost-C is independent of the concept of time. He’s just an observer . Ghost-C also sees another ghost in the house across the road. The other ghost says that she is waiting for someone but can’t remember who. This shows that the other ghost has been around for a very long time . Eventually, M moves on. She’s dropped home by another guy. Ghost-C is angered. The lights fluctuate and he knocks some books down. M notices that the book lying open on the floor is “ A Haunted House ”.
Later on, M listens to the song composed by C when he was still alive. She remembers being moved by it. In time, she finally decides to leave, move on. The house gets emptied. She writes down something on a piece of paper and slips it into the cracks of the door frame. Ghost-C is left alone. Just as Ghost-C tries fishing out the note, the next set of residents come to live in the house. We are shown that the children are able to sense the presence of Ghost-C. Hit upon by a lack of purpose, Ghost-C eventually loses his shit and behaves like a ghost we’re all used to seeing. Ghost-C begins to throw plates and break them. The family screams in terror. Next morning, the mother calmly collects the broken shards, her sanity, and gets the hell out of the house.
A lot more time passes by. Many residents stay and vacate the house. We are shown a party thrown by one such resident. Ke$ha, the Tik Tok girl, has a little cameo here . One of the dudes in the party breaks into a monologue about how everything, no matter how great, will always come to an end. It’s really not a very captivating speech but the essence of it is that eventually time will cause everything to fade away and in the end, time itself will fade away. Ghost-C is standing there, listening, in pain, I’d imagine.
Still trying to get the note
Years pass, the house is left dilapidated. Ghost-C still wants to get to that note M has put in the crack. Just as he gets near it, a bulldozer tears the place down. The note is lost. At this point, the other ghost from across the road states that who she’s waiting for is not coming and leaves in a poof of a falling blanket.
Time passes and a high-rise building is created in the place where the house stood. Ghost-C continues roaming the area, lost. He eventually decides to end it all ( as in, end being a wandering ghost and move on to the afterlife ) and jumps off the roof. But that doesn’t happen to be the method to leave to the afterlife. Instead, Ghost-C goes all the way back in time. To when the very first inhabitants move into the place where the house will eventually stand. The 19th century. Ghost-C is independent of time and is now going to loop back and experience the centuries that have passed.
The first inhabitants are rudely interrupted by arrows to their chest. Ghost-C witnesses the carcasses rotting. Centuries pass. Ghost-C finally loops back to the time when C and M first move into the house. Ghost-C witnesses C and M live their lives in that house again.
A Ghost Story Ending Explained
So you see, Ghost-C was already in the house when C and M first moved in. The “history” that C mentions that the house has, in a vague sense, is the history seen through a dead version of himself who is also in that house. This also circles back to the lyrics of the song. They are things that are going to happen, witnessed by a dead version of himself. This is pure speculation. I’d love to see other theories around this. Please do drop a comment below.
One night, Ghost-C sits down at the piano causing a loud clang to happen. This is the same clang that M and C wake up to earlier on . When they come to check, they obviously can’t see Ghost-C and they go back to bed.
Then C dies. Here’s a confusing bit. Ghost-C witnesses Ghost-C-2 go through everything that Ghost-C once when through. Furthermore, Ghost-C-2 can’t see Ghost-C. This means that Ghost-C might stay on in an eternal loop . Ghost-C now has access to the door frame again. He fishes out the note. Soon as he opens the note, Ghost-C, too, vanishes in a poof of falling drapes.
What what did the note say in A Ghost Story?
In short, it appears the note contained the lyrics from the song C composed earlier in the film giving C’s ghost closure and that’s why we see the ghost finally move on and leave. To get a better understanding of this we need to revisit what M talks about when she was a young girl.
When I was little and we used to move all the time, I’d write these notes, and I would fold them up really small and I would hide them in different places, so that if I ever wanted to go back, there’d be a piece of me there waiting. They were just like, old rhymes and poems. Things I wanted to remember about living in that house or what I liked about it.
I don’t feel that M senses Ghost-C’s presence in the house and is writing a note to him. She’s just following her routine practice of leaving a note in the house she’s now leaving. It is “a piece of her” that she’s leaving behind. She also mentions that what she wrote in her previous notes were old rhymes and poems, things she wanted to remember. She is shown to cherish the song C once composed. It is likely that she wrote down a verse from that song, a rhyme. Ghost-C has finally got to the note which represents a “piece of M”. Assuming that the content of the note was from his song, it gives him added closure. He breaks out of his eternal loop and moves on to the afterlife. The film ends.
That’s all I’ve got. What were your thoughts on the plot and ending of A Ghost Story? It would be great to see other theories around this ending. So please do comment.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time. Click to browse all his film articles
Home > A Ghost Story Ending Explained
- A Ghost Story Ending Explained
- UPDATED: September 19, 2023
Table of Contents
The film “A Ghost Story” is a haunting and thought-provoking exploration of time, loss, and the human experience. Directed by David Lowery, the movie takes viewers on an emotional journey through the eyes of a ghost who remains in his house even after his death. The film’s ending, however, has left many audiences puzzled and seeking answers. In this article, we will attempt to unravel the mysteries behind the enigmatic ending of “A Ghost Story.”
*Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers for the film “A Ghost Story.”*
Throughout the movie, we follow the ghost (played by Casey Affleck) as he observes various inhabitants of his house over different periods of time. The ghost is portrayed as a white-sheeted figure with two black holes for eyes, a classic representation of a ghost. As he silently watches events unfold, we witness moments of joy, sorrow, and introspection.
Towards the end of the film, the ghost encounters another ghost in a neighboring house. This second ghost explains that he has been waiting for someone but does not know who or why. This encounter raises questions about the nature of existence and purpose even in death.
The climax of “A Ghost Story” occurs when the ghost finds himself transported back to prehistoric times. He witnesses a family living in his house long before it was built. This scene serves as a powerful reminder that time is an ever-flowing river, and our lives are just tiny drops within it.
The final scenes of the movie depict an abandoned future version of Earth where all traces of humanity have vanished. The ghost wanders through desolate landscapes until he reaches what appears to be a portal or doorway. He hesitates briefly before stepping through it.
This ending can be interpreted in several ways. One interpretation suggests that the portal represents a passage into another realm or dimension beyond our understanding. By entering it, the ghost may finally find peace or a new beginning.
Another interpretation is that the portal represents the ultimate acceptance of mortality. The ghost, having witnessed countless lives and moments, finally embraces the inevitability of death and moves on to whatever lies beyond.
Director David Lowery intentionally leaves the ending open to interpretation, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions. The film’s themes of time, loss, and existentialism make it difficult to provide a definitive explanation. Instead, “A Ghost Story” invites audiences to reflect on their own mortality and the fleeting nature of human existence.
In conclusion, “A Ghost Story” is a hauntingly beautiful film that explores profound themes through its enigmatic narrative. The ending, with its portrayal of a ghost stepping through a mysterious portal, leaves audiences pondering the mysteries of life and death. While there may not be a concrete answer to what exactly happens in the final scenes, it is this ambiguity that makes “A Ghost Story” a truly thought-provoking and unforgettable cinematic experience.
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The Absolute Best Ghost Story Movie, According To Reddit Horror Fans
Slasher, monster, and zombie horror movies are great, but there's something to be said for a good, old-fashioned ghost story. There's a reason those tales of the beyond have haunted and fascinated us for so long, and continue to be a staple of the horror genre to this day. Few things can make the spine tingle more quickly than a run-in with an extra-corporeal being, molded by death itself, with the power to bend and twist our reality in ways we can't begin to understand. Ghost stories are particularly fertile ground for movies, where their clash between material and spiritual realms can be richly expressed through visuals and sounds. Think about the horror movies that made the biggest impression on you, and there's a good chance a handful of them, if not most, will be ghost stories.
But what is the best ghost story movie? That's what a poll on Reddit's horror subreddit, Dreadit recently attempted to answer. As a group of over 2.3 million horror fans, it was maybe inevitable that members of Dreadit would ultimately elect a bona-fide classic of the genre. But their Top 20 list as a whole might surprise you — and horrify you, if you dare to watch all the movies on it.
The Shining is still the peak of ghost story cinema
Say what you will about Stanley Kubrick's controversial 1980 masterpiece The Shining , but it hasn't come close to leaving our collective imagination. After decades of being the object of endless analysis, fan homages, and extravagant theories , it is still, per Dreadit , the best that the ghost story subgenre has ever had to offer. It's easy to understand why: Even if you don't care for Kubrick's changes to Stephen King's novel or don't subscribe to the wildest fan readings, the trials and tribulations of Jack (Jack Nicholson), Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and little Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) at the mysterious Overlook Hotel hit the perfect sweet spot between fear of the occult, psychological anguish, shocking violence and just plain inexplicable WTF-ery. It's maybe the most visceral horror movie ever, and a lot of that stems from just how deftly it plays on our innate anxieties about the past and the ways in which it haunts us.
Kubrick himself used to say that supernatural horror had a way of reaching into us viscerally. In an interview at the time of The Shining 's release (via VisualMemory.co.uk ), the director remarked that "Fantasy may deal best with themes which lie primarily in the unconscious. I think the unconscious appeal of a ghost story, for instance, lies in its promise of immortality. If you can be frightened by a ghost story, then you must accept the possibility that supernatural beings exist." That core understanding of the appeal of ghost stories, and the way he knew how to mobilize said appeal through his filmmaking, is why horror fans still agree that Kubrick was able to make the best one.
The rest of the list contains some usual suspects, and some surprises
The rest of the best chosen by Dreadit users is pretty on par with what you might expect. In addition to The Shining in the top spot, notorious trauma-fest Hereditary was chosen as the runner-up, and the podium was rounded out by megahit The Conjuring . The '80s haunted-house classic Poltergeist came in fourth, with André Øvredal's The Autopsy of Jane Doe rounding out the top five.
The full top 20 list gets more interesting when you start looking at some of the spots further down. In addition to The Others , Sinister , Insidious , and Hell House LLC , the original Candyman also found a well-deserved spot in the Top 10, after years of being consistently underrated, perhaps boosted by anticipation for the upcoming Candyman reboot . Other great, surprising selections include 1408 — the John Cusack/Samuel L. Jackson hotel flick that's well-remembered for its mind-bending multiple endings , but not enough for being a top-shelf horror movie in its own right — and The Changeling , a Canadian classic that doesn't get talked about nowadays as much as some of the '80s/'90s films it influenced. And, of course, if you're looking for mainstays, The Others ,, The Blair Witch Project , Paranormal Activity , The Ring and The Sixth Sense are all there too. All in all, Dreadit's list is great, whether you're looking to knock some classics off your watchlist or discover new, under-appreciated gems.
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11 Of The Scariest Ghost Stories From Reddit
Leave the lights on when you read these bone-chilling stories of average people encountering the paranormal.
Lady Ghost on Staircase
[via Discovery Inc.]
It wasn’t a little girl
I was camping with my husband and his family at a small, remote lake in New Mexico. There were about 10 people in our group and another group of six people in the next campsite. It was nighttime and both groups were doing typical activities: making s’mores, having a few drinks and telling stories, when we all heard what sounded like a little girl yelling out for help. Neither group had children with them, but we were all positive we were hearing a little girl and decided to search the area we heard the noises from together.
There was a field behind our campsites, and we all saw a very tall, pure white figure standing maybe 100ft away from us in the field, making the noises. We all agreed this thing looked maybe 6 feet tall, skinny, and white as can be. We made our way closer to investigate, but whatever it was that we saw started backing off as we got closer, and it disappeared into the trees. All night we continued to hear a little girl calling for help as we tried to sleep.
The walking dead
I'm a psychiatric nurse and early in my career, I worked at a residential mental health facility. One of our residents was an elective mute, which means that he didn't/wouldn't/couldn't talk, but there were no medical reasons as to why. He had spoken earlier in his life and in fact seemed quite normal back then, with the exception of being close to seven feet tall. He'd been raised in the Deep South and joined the military when he was 19, but one night he vanished. He was declared AWOL, and eventually he was declared missing and dead.
Ten years later, a seven-foot tall man walked into a VA Hospital emergency room in my part of the Midwest and said to the receptionist: "My name is Marion Duchene (not the real name), and I've been dead for ten years."
Those were the last words he ever spoke.
He was covered with dust, and he was wearing the same clothes he'd been reported to be wearing the night he vanished. His social security number had not been used and he had no identification on his person. However, they were able to identify him, I guess via fingerprints. The family was notified but they said they had already grieved their lost man and that whomever was claiming to be him simply could not be. They demanded not to be contacted again.
Marion paced all day every day, moving his mouth that looked like talking or muttering, but no sound came out. He had an unnerving habit of throwing his head back with his mouth wide open as if he were laughing heartily, but not even a breath could be heard. If I talked to him, he appeared to listen, periodically throwing his head back in that laughter-mimicking way of his.
Various medications were tried, but they did not affect him either positively or negatively. Occupational therapy did nothing because Marion would just grin and unless told to stay put, he'd get up and start pacing again.
On my last day at that job, the last thing I saw was Marion, pacing in the parking lot, throwing his head back to "laugh." Later I wondered if all along I'd been dealing with a ghost. All these years later, I still don't know.
The unrest stop
I was driving across country with my mom and sister when I was 16 and my sister was 20. It was late, but we were well rested still and alert. We were driving along an interstate and needed gas and a bathroom break, so we stopped at the only rest stop in 200 miles. There was a van full of teenagers on a road trip at the gas station, as well as a small grey car parked at the pump in front of us with two young men standing still outside of it.
When we got there everything felt wrong. We'd been on the road for days and seen many rest stops at night and had never been afraid until then. My mom and sister went inside and I stayed in the car. I heard the teenagers say they were creeped out and couldn't get the pump to work, and they left in a hurry. I was watching the car in front of us, and the two men had not moved at all. Not an inch. They weren't talking. They weren't on phones. They were just standing there, still as stone.
My sister and mom came running back out to the car and when they got in, the two men slowly turned to look at us while not moving or pivoting the rest of their bodies, and I swear to fucking shit, we all saw the same thing - they had eyes dark as pitch and empty. Truly empty. Not black, not reflecting any light at all, just a void.
We sped out of there and didn’t stop until we were in the next city. The worst thing about the entire experience? We couldn't find the place on any map. We knew exactly which spot on the interstate to look, and we couldn't find it on Google maps or any paper map we had. We even asked locals about the creepy gas station out on that stretch of road and got only confused looks. We've traveled on that interstate since, and there is no rest stop.
It came for us in the graveyard
We were driving my friend’s really old beat up Subaru through a massive graveyard. We stopped and walked down a hill and came across a little pond. There was someone sitting on a rock on the other side of the pond. The figure was all black and we couldn’t make out any features other than the fact it looked like a man who was wearing some old-style top hat. We stupidly waved and shouted “Hi!”. He didn’t show any acknowledgement and continued sitting still on the rock. All of a sudden, he jumped to his feet, started running to us on the water and then vanished in thin water about halfway on the pond. My friends and I screamed and ran back to the car.
The car wouldn’t start, and we heard something banging on the back of the car. It wasn’t a constant bang, but every few seconds or so we’d hear it. Nobody was outside from what we could see in the dark, but something was making a noise on the car. I opened my phone and started dialing my mom to come give us a boost, but I had no service. None of us had any cell service. The next 30 minutes were spent trying to get her car started. No banging was heard afterwards, but we felt this heavy pressure around us.
Finally, the car started and she hit the pedal to the metal. We sped out of the graveyard so fast. Immediately crossing the gates, all of our phones regained cell service. One thing I know for certain is that someone or something was out there, and it was not an animal or a human.
It was good to see an old friend
When I was 37, I went to my high school reunion. I flew into the nearest airport and rented a car. The distance was about 35 miles through a very rural and almost abandoned part of the country. About three miles outside of town I see someone on the side of the road, flagging me down. It turned out that it was one of the guys I had attended school with. Jim (not his name) gets in the car and we start talking. I had not seen him in twenty years, but he still looked the same, maybe a little older. We get to town and I ask him if he wants to come to the VFW and have a drink. He says "No, just take me home." Jim's parents had lived only a few blocks from my grandmother’s house, and I turned in that direction but he said to take him to the outskirts of town. There was a mobile home park out there, and I figured that is where he lived. When we reached the end of the turn off he said, "Just drop me here. It was good to see you again" and he walks off into the night.
I go to the VFW, met some of my old classmates, we start to talk. As we are talking about who is coming to the reunion, I mention that I had just picked Jim up three miles east of town and had dropped him off. Everyone gets quiet; even the guy singing karaoke stops and lays down the mike. My cousin goes white as a new t-shirt.
"Barb, Jim died on that curve eight years ago. Rolled his car. We were all at his funeral," I was told. I started to feel really dizzy, and I went out to the car to take some deep breaths. There on the seat is the local newspaper, printed eight years previous, containing Jim's obituary. I still have the paper.
Someone take Reddit away from me. I can’t stop reading ghost stories — rym (@fiincheresque) March 25, 2021
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned
After we moved into our home, we were told a woman had died there at the hands of her abusive husband. She hated men. My dad would wake up with scratches all over himself, and whenever my brother was mean to my sister or I, he would have scratches on him as well. One day, my brother hurt our sister he hit her with something. When he woke up later that night he had a horrible bloody nose.
The day we moved out, my brother accidentally broke his twin’s arm trying out a wrestling move. He swears that he would have died that night if it wasn't our last in the house.
Death came for him
I was standing in my parents’ room, talking to my very sick dad at the time. He was dying of stage 4 esophageal cancer. I got the feeling something was behind me. I looked towards the doorway to the living room and something about 4'6 and fully black is peeking around the corner, with its hands on the door frame. I ran towards it, and it slipped back around the door. When I got outside the doorway, there was nothing. My dad was completely confused when I step back inside the room when I tell him. People who stayed at my house in my dad’s final days claimed to have seen it. My mom saw the figure on multiple occasions in multiple places until he passed away. We haven't seen it since.
I don’t know what possesses me to binge read Reddit true/real life ghost stories about twice a year when each place I live always has some kind of resident spirit. 😱 — Dr Fish Philosopher Todd (Dr FPT)🐟 (@ZoeSTodd) February 4, 2021
My mother attracted evil
After my parents divorced when I was a teenager, I lived with my mother. I experienced lots of paranormal happenings. Several times when I was reading in my bed, the room would start to feel really “icy.” Next, it would feel as if something/somebody that hated me was staring at me. When I got that feeling, I would leave the room and come back an hour later. Sometimes during the day, I would see a shadow figure sneaking along my bedroom walls.
Something in the flat was pretending to be my dog. I went into my room and heard a deep growl from under the bed. My dog wasn’t capable of making a noise that deep. It sounded like either a really big dog or a man doing his best dog impersonation. Other times, my dog would whimper and pace in the room next to mine but wouldn’t come when called, as if he was afraid of something in the hallway.
When I moved in with my father, the paranormal activity stopped.
Evicted by a ghost
Shortly after college, I got married. We immediately moved into a basement apartment because that's all that was available within our budget. This place had a poltergeist, and my wife was terrified. Whatever resided there with us made it clear it wanted to live alone. Dishes, glasses, and other items would fly off the shelf. My wife was hit several times. There was always an ominous feeling like we were being watched. At night when we walked through the apartment in the dark, there would be insanely bright flashes of light that would illuminate the entire room.
One night while we were going to bed, as soon as my wife and I walked into the bedroom we heard a voice from nowhere say, "[My name], move." My wife looked at me, I looked at her...I said loudly, “you've got it, bud.” We moved out 2 days later and stayed with family. The old lady who owned the place died a few months later, and the house was torn down. It is still an empty lot to this day, nothing but grass and a tree. I still drive by it every now and again.
The Death March
My dad used to work as a corrections officer at a rural prison. He drove the perimeter of the property for his entire shift, where he would check empty buildings for runaway inmates. It was generally a boring job.
One night, my dad was parked on a hill reading a magazine when he started to feel a thumping in his body. He described it as the feeling you get when speakers are playing a song with really heavy bass.
He put the magazine down and checked his rearview mirror where he saw someone outside the truck. He grabbed his pistol and jumped out of the truck with his weapon drawn. Outside the truck, he realized it was a procession of Native Americans walking through the truck (and directly through his seat) only to disappear at the exact spot he was sitting. He said it was clear they were ghosts because many of them appeared injured. This went on for a few seconds, and then the whole procession disappeared.
He called the other perimeter guy on his walkie to try to explain, and the other guy almost immediately stopped communicating. Turns out the other guy had seen this happen before but didn't believe in ghosts, so he wouldn't talk about it.
The demon’s room
I worked as a forensic nurse in a hospital’s lock-up unit. We had one older lady who swore she was being haunted and abused by a demon she would call Tiberius. So many crazy things happened while she was on the unit. We’d go into the room, do normal care, leave, and seconds later she’d start screaming bloody murder. We’d run into the room to find her looking like she’d been in a fight with a boxing champ—bloody lip, black eye, markings all over her body. No one ever saw her doing this stuff to herself. Things would get moved around the room by themselves. At one point she was in protective restraints because the doctor thought she was hurting herself. There was no way she could have moved or done anything to herself while in these restraints, but new marks would always appear or her tray/cart would be across the room. The room was secure so there was no way someone else was doing this. When we asked her questions, she’d just say, “It was Tiberius.”
After she was discharged, we always had trouble with that room. If there was going to be a rapid response or code, it happened in that room. One night a guard reported lights blinking on and off. It was that room.
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Horror movies don’t scare me anymore, so I read ghost stories on Reddit
I’ve never seen a ghost. I don’t want to see a ghost. That doesn’t stop me from asking everyone I meet if they’ve seen a ghost. I don’t have strong beliefs about it. I’m not skeptical. I just want to hear about it. And I want to be scared. Because I like being scared. And, as much as I enjoy horror movies and TV and books, it’s not because I find them scary. They’re entertainment. They’re jack-in-the-boxes. I clap with joy when the clown appears. When I want to be scared, I want to hear a ghost story. A real one. And since campfires are in short supply these days, I go on Reddit.
r/Ghoststories isn’t a revelation. If you’ve spent any time on Reddit, you’ve probably been there, if not the abundance of other threads where folks share “true” stories of hauntings, aliens, unexplained phenomena, and brushes with serial killers. Or perhaps you’ve visited r/NoSleep or r/CreepyPasta, two popular communities where writers pen fictional, sometimes great stories of terror. But I prefer r/Ghoststories. The disclaimer is what wins me over: “This is a subreddit strictly for posting real paranormal experiences, not fictional stories that you have created.”
Not an ironclad guarantee of authenticity, obviously, but what is in this realm? It’s not as if there exists any objectively true stories of hauntings—if there did, there would be no need to prove they exist, which is part of the fun of believing in ghosts. Besides, it’s easy to tell what’s crafted and what’s earnest in places like r/GhostStories. Some are just silly—“The day I had a 5 pound bag of marbles thrown at my head by something” is the title of one recent post; “Spirit conformation by dog” reads another—and others are just too elaborate, as if the author is sketching it to the beats of traditional horror. Just look for a narrative, or an emotional peg—if the ghost you saw is wearing the clothes of your papaw, I’ll assume you’re making it up, or at least tailoring it into something that brings you comfort instead of terror. If you can’t explain what you saw, on the other hand, or aren’t even trying to explain what you saw, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. If your post is filled with misspellings and vague, unformed descriptions, I’m rapt.
Take “Bible Camp,” a story posted just last week. It’s filled with spelling errors, casual turns of phrase, and non-detailed descriptions of stuff recounted to the author by their uncle. The author describes a religious camp for children from troubled homes, saying the camp “has had many creepy things happen there because these kids bring shit from there homes to there and that shit fucks with the kids.” This includes kids seeing “figures in the windows and in the bathrooms,” and one little girl who no one knew wandering through the bunks.
There’s also this , which was submitted into the annual frenzy of scary stories solicited by The A.V. Club ’s sister site Jezebel . Like r/Ghoststories, the site demands the stories be true and, though plenty of this year’s entries raise red flags in that department, I’m completely, utterly unnerved by this woman recalling a strange figure demanding to be let into her home from both the front and back doors, simultaneously. Later, she writes about a neighbor who apparently went through a similar situation, but the nature of it all is deliciously murky. In the comments, the author chats with those responding, readily acknowledging she has no clue what happened.
Both are simple, hazy, and incomplete, as if glimpsed through a smeared lens. There’s no lesson, no catharsis, no coherent link to a larger mythology. My acquaintances and friends who’ve had experiences recall their own hauntings similarly, and have even admitted to spicing them up for company, lest it not impress the curious.
But it’s the banality that makes them interesting. When you go see It Chapter 2 or Annabelle Comes Home , you know what you’re in for—the environment is set, the groundwork laid, and the jump-scare stings turned up to 11. Modern horror, both in the indie and mainstream realms, consists mostly of set pieces in which a fuse is lit and allowed to simmer before detonating into a storm of shrieking chaos. Though you can find an ephemeral dread in the work of filmmakers like Robert Eggers ( The Witch , The Lighthouse ), Ari Aster ( Hereditary , Midsommar ), and Oz Perkins ( The Blackcoat’s Daughter , I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House ), their films nevertheless exist in a medium that demands elaboration, be it in a narrative or a thematic sense. They’re wonderful—and scarier than most—but I’m drawn to the banal horror, the hauntings so brief and odd that they drift almost immediately into the subconscious, only to rise as you stare at the headlights crisscrossing your ceiling some sleepless night.
You can find this kind of horror on screen. There’s the infamous dog-man blowjob in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining , for example, which Shelley Duvall’s Wendy stumbles upon as The Overlook falls into supernatural madness. Those who’ve read the novel get it, but the majority don’t, and that’s all for the better. It’s a moment that screams for context, and the fact that is has none in the film is what keeps it wedged in our brains.
I also think of Halloween II and the child with the razor blade in his mouth—there’s no reason for it, only the implication that somewhere beyond the orbit of Michael Myers is a monster sinking razors into bits of candy. Or the 1978 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers , which begins with Robert Duvall, dressed as a priest, swinging in a playground with some children. It’s just a cameo, but it’s hard not to sense something sinister about it, especially when we never see him again. I think of Heather Donahue screaming “What the fuck is that?!” at something we never see in The Blair Witch Project , the drunk randomly cackling at the gravestone at the beginning of Texas Chain Saw Massacre , anything David Lynch has ever made. Something is wrong, and we don’t know what.
I read about Morrow Road on the internet. I was in high school and my friends and I drove from the suburbs of Detroit to Algonac. There’s a bridge there, and they said if you stop your car on it, turn off the ignition, and honk the horn three times, you’ll see a ghost: a woman approaching their car in a light blue nightgown, her hands covered in blood. Some say she’ll ask after her lost baby. Some say you can hear the baby crying. Sometimes your car won’t start. Sometimes glowing orbs descend from the trees and follow you home.
But we couldn’t find Morrow Road. Driving through the dim, abandoned streets of the town, we saw a woman standing in a phone booth in the parking lot of a gas station. We pulled up, asked her where Morrow Road was. She didn’t know. “Never heard of it.” She needed a ride, though. We gave her one. As we drove away, we noticed the phone booth had no phone in it.
Lacking Google Maps in this pre-smartphone age, we started driving home. That’s when the girl began giving us directions. “But we thought you’d never heard of Morrow Road,” we said. She shook her head, calm. “My best friend lived on Morrow Road,” she said. “We used to ride our bikes here.”
We drove on, slowly approaching the bridge. We sat there, idling in silence. We put the car in park. “You have to turn it off,” she told him. “You have to turn the car off.” We turned off the car. We rolled down the windows. We honked. Once. Twice. Three times. The blare echoed through the air. We waited, for the cries. For bloody hands. For orbs. Instead, we heard something else. Very distant. The sounds of shouting, chanting, laughing.
We started the car. Pebbles flew under the tires. We burned down Morrow Road, our headlights bouncing. And on our left, in a spacious clearing, was a giant bonfire, at least 30 feet high. We slowed. We looked. A dozen or kids, roughly our age, were dancing around the fire, stripped down to their underwear.
I’ve been tempted to embellish that story, because, well, that’s it. We drove the girl home. She lived with her parents in Center Line. She’d been at a party and done a little cocaine and that’s why she was scattered, she said. The kids in the woods were… just kids, probably. It was warm out. But I scoured message boards in the aftermath. I read other people’s Morrow Road accounts. I wondered what was real and what wasn’t. And when you’re dealing with ghosts (or, for that matter, the internet), it’s easy to believe everything is true or everything is not. It was during that digital dive that I realized I’m not sure what I believe. Did we experience something, despite not encountering anything supernatural? Because it still feels that way.
I grew up a terrified kid. For years, I couldn’t sleep until my parents came upstairs to go to bed. I saw shadows in the corner. I heard noises in the closet. One night, I swear I felt something grab my leg from the right side of the bed—my feet dangled off the left side for years afterward. Every creak or shift or odd glint of light was threatening. My parents told me it was the “house settling,” but, now that I’m older, I realize even more how little those words actually mean. That’s not to say that what I heard were ghosts, but rather that I never got a good reason as to why they weren’t, aside from the fact that “they don’t exist.” You can say that, and you can unspool some scientific theories regarding carbon monoxide or low-frequency sound, but you can’t expect people to listen.
I’m reminded, hilariously, of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures , a series perhaps best known for muscular, ghost-hunting ghost-bros. I unashamedly love Ghost Adventures , not because I believe that every shadow and scrap of static they capture is a spirit, but because I believe that they believe it. (If you doubt me, listen to host Zak Bagans on Talk Is Jericho .) Try as they might to build narratives around what they discover—and they do —the show is always best when it stumbles upon something that doesn’t suit the story of the location they’re investigating. To me, it seems what we perceive to be ghosts are as unknowable and immune to pattern as I imagine a holy deity to be. If one bit of “evidence” doesn’t check out, does that invalidate the rest? Believing in ghosts, I imagine, isn’t unlike believing in God—there will never be proof, only subjective experience.
Which brings me back to Reddit. There, in these chunky, unadorned blocks of text, I find people who feel as if they’ve touched upon something otherworldly, and from it are trying to foster some kind of connection, be it through validation or comfort. I’ve never seen a ghost, but I relate because I know that sensation of not-knowing, of sensing that something is somehow wrong and not being able to grasp why. Outside of the long nights I spent listening for creaks in the walls, the night on Morrow Road was the most scared I think I’ve ever been. I don’t really get it, but revisiting it brings me an odd kind of nostalgia for a moment I felt connected to something larger.
“Someone keeps calling me” reads the title of a post from a few weeks back. It goes:
For the past few years when I am home alone I swear I hear someone calling me. But when I go to look there is nobody and everything is quiet. Or when I am wearing earphones I hear someone or something calling out my name but again there is no one. It gives me the chills everytime [sic] and I sometimes feel watched.
Is it true? Maybe. But I believe it. I believe it because I believe they believe it. And that scares me.
10 horror movie endings so bad they ruined the movie, according to reddit.
A great horror film leaves viewers frightened long after it ends, but some end so poorly that any horror viewers felt is replaced by disgust.
Following up on the success of Us and Candyman , American director Jordan Peele's latest horror film, Nope , was released last month. The film has a supernatural twist to its fear factor, with the story following two siblings who attempt to collect evidence of a UFO.
While Peele has shown his ability to produce great horror movies that grip their audience from start to finish, not every director is able to do the same. Some films in the horror genre start incredibly strong, but crash and burn towards the end, leaving viewers wondering if they ever should have put the movie on in the first place.
The Open House
A Netflix horror film released in 2018, The Open House follows the story of a mother and her son who, after her husband dies, are forced to move into her sister's chalet. The house, however, is on the market, so they must leave on Sundays for the open houses.
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The movie consists of strange occurrences happening that eventually lead to deaths, but the way the movie ends makes viewers feel like they just wasted an hour and a half. Redditor novab792 sums up their disappointment by saying that "the ending somehow managed to both kill everyone and leave parts of the story not wrapped up."
The prequel to The Conjuring , 2014's Annabelle focuses on the origin of the titular evil doll introduced in the horror movie's sequel. The show follows the strange occurrences that come about in the home of John and Mia Form after they obtain this rare porcelain doll.
While Annabelle has some very good moments and is a riveting horror for most of the film, the inclusion of an outdated trope greatly disappointed some Redditors, ruining the whole movie. Redditor MRB1007 explains that they "LOVED that movie until the whole 'poor little old black lady needs to sacrifice herself so the white woman can be happy' bit."
A scary movie based on the true story of the 1997 UFO phenomenon "Phoenix Lights," Phoenix Forgotten tells the story of a group of teenagers that disappear while searching for the origin of this extraterrestrial contact. The film is shot using found-footage, with viewers watching protagonist Sophie's older brother Josh investigate the occurrence through videos.
The concept of the movie is interesting, with a sister attempting to find her missing brother through his investigation of the paranormal, but the ending fails to wrap up the concept. Reddit user redditryan2011 explains that "the movie was decent up until that point and then the ending basically said 'FU,'" adding that it was a "waste of time" with "no closure at all."
A 1987 Italian slasher film by Dario Argento, Opera follows a young soprano singer who is forced to watch murders occur while working at an opera house. The assailant first kills a stagehand while she is performing, then goes on to involve her in various other murders, including that of her boyfriend.
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This film is well-executed until the end, where clumsy directing sours the beautifully curated story that had been being told. Redditor PaulSheldonsFeet shows their displeasure by describing the ending as "tacked on, pointless, awkwardly filmed, disjointed and tonally different" from the rest of the film, completely ruining it for them.
As the name suggests, the 2010 horror film YellowBrickRoad utilizes the classic movie The Wizard of Oz in its storytelling. It follows an expedition into a town whose entire population disappeared 70 years prior, after a town-wide viewing of The Wizard of Oz leads them all to walk into the wilderness.
What starts out as an exciting and unique premise devolves into an underwhelming glob at the end of YellowBrickRoad . Redditor dr_fritz candidly describes the ending as feeling like "a placeholder ending they were using until they came up with something better, but they forgot to come up with something better."
Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Gerald's Game was released in 2017 by Netflix. The premise of the movie centers around a couple who go on holiday in a secluded area, only for the husband to die while the wife is handcuffed to the bed with little hope of being rescued.
One of the scariest parts of Gerald's Game is the hallucinations that the wife starts to have after suffering from dehydration, causing the viewer to no longer know what is real and what is not. The ending of the movie spoils this fear factor and ruins the horror, with Redditor deimosremus stating that "it completely gets rid of any ambiguity that made it creepy."
Mom And Dad
A comedy horror film starring Nicolas Cage, Mom and Dad follows the story of the Ryans, a family of four whose household is engulfed in tension. One day, while the daughter Carly is at school, parents suddenly start murdering their children, sending the school into chaos.
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While the premise is interesting and the movie progresses well, the ending is unforgivable for Redditors. Reddit user MovieMike007 describes it as more of a "complete lack of ending," saying that they "really enjoyed the movie, right up until the point where it just abruptly ended" with no explanation or conclusion to wrap up loose ends.
A 2003 French slasher film, High Tension follows a pair of students, Alex and Marie, who are visiting Alex's parents' farmhouse for the weekend. While staying at the house, they are visited by a serial killer who murders Alex's father before chasing the rest of the residents.
The film has all the makings of a great slasher film—from the gore to the action—but sadly falters with a twist ending so bad it ruins the film entirely. Reddit is very aware of this, with Reddit user chochobeware stating that they have "read on here several times to turn it off before the last 10 minutes" or risk ruining the film.
Ghost Stories is a British horror anthology that tells the story of Philip Goodman, a professor who has devoted his life to disproving the work of psychics and superstition. He is invited by a paranormal investigator to help try and solve three paranormal events that are supposedly the work of ghosts.
Reddit user swordmaster123 recaps Ghost Stories as being a lovely and entertaining movie whose "ending sort of made it all pointless." This disappointment is the work of the failed twist ending of the film, in which the entire movie is shown to have been simply a dream by an incapacitated Goodman.
City Of The Living Dead
A 1980 Italian supernatural horror, City of The Living Dead follows the story of a priest whose death has opened the gates of Hell. To stop the undead from being released, the psychic who saw the death of the priest in a vision and a journalist who saved the psychic's life must close the gates before the undead escape on All Saints' Day.
With displays of incredibly graphic violence, wrapped up in the story of a supernatural threat of demons, City of The Living Dead has great horror elements to entertain fans of the genre. The ending, however, is woeful, with Redditor coolseraz claiming that "the real ending got ruined because someone poured coffee over the pages of the script," summing up the disappointment of the ending that was produced.
Next: 10 Superhero Movie Endings So Bad They Ruined The Film According To Reddit
Movie Review: Three Misses, One Hit in Netflix's 'Ghost Stories'
Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar have collaborated on another anthology – this time of horror short films.
A still from 'Ghost Stories'.
After Bombay Talkies (2013) and Lust Stories (2018), four Indian filmmakers – Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar – have collaborated again on an anthology, Ghost Stories , now streaming on Netflix.
Their earlier movies revolved around cinephilia and lust, while this recent release, as the name attests, deals with horror, a genre that Akhtar and Johar have not tried before – though technically neither have Kashyap or Banerjee, but at least their past films explored darker human psyches. It seems fitting, then, that Ghost Stories starts and ends with shorts by Akhtar and Johar: two ‘novices’ ushering us in and out of this world – a relatively risky endeavour in a film about fear.
Akhtar’s short, Nurse – opening with a scene comprising recognisable horror film tropes (an overcast sky, a woman standing alone in a vast landscape marked by distinct cawing, a hen dropping dead to the ground) – signals an amateurishly ‘spooky!’ intent, but soon relaxes to find a more natural rhythm. Here, we meet Sameera (Jahnvi Kapoor), a young nurse in charge of an elderly ailing lady, Mrs Malik (Surekha Sikri), who, battered by delusions, keeps calling out for her son, Armaan. He’s nowhere to be seen or heard.
Also read: In a Tumultuous 2019, These Four Hindi Films Brought Out Our Shared Humanity
Akhtar sets up compelling parallels between the two women: Sameera is attractive in the present, Mrs Malik was in the past. Sameera waits for her boyfriend, Guddu (Vijay Varma), Mrs Malik for Armaan. Both have suffered the consequences of familial abandonment.
Akhtar uses mirrors to depict these similarities. There are several scenes where Sameera sees her image – sometimes reflected in one, at other times in multiple mirrors. When she wears Mrs Malik’s brooch, and looks at her reflection, whom does she see: herself or her patient? Later, we see them sitting side by side, their images locked in a nearby mirror. Sameera and Mrs Malik have something else in common: the long, desolate hallway connecting their rooms.
Nurse is a story of morbid hope – of premonition – where Mrs Malik hears a doorbell before it’s rung, thinking it is Armaan (not too different from Sameera’s wish that Guddu will come to see her). The conceit of premonition is also built in the segment’s aural design: in several scenes, we first hear the sound and then see its accompanying visual. There’s also some cheeky wordplay (“Do you think I’m deaf” said by Mrs Malik sounds a lot like “do you think I’m dead”).
But despite these technical ingenuities – and attention to detail – Nurse , ending with a banal twist, doesn’t quite work. Akhtar has taken a small, affecting story and tried to force-fit it into the genre of horror. Somewhere between wracking the nerve and brushing the heart, her short loses its way.
Kashyap’s segment, Bird , is centred on a young pregnant mother, Neha (Sobhita Dhulipala), who babysits her nephew (Zachary Braz) during the day. Presumably by accident, the similarities between Nurse and Bird are remarkable. Both derive their dramatic mileage from a ‘failed’ childhood (Neha, we’re told, couldn’t be a good daughter; the karmic question, then, seems: is she even allowed to be a mother?), feature mirrors in key scenes, make frequent use of hallways and involve pain-alleviating pills.
Neha’s house has an attic, hosting a nest, a crow and a few eggs. Every now and then, Neha feeds the crow, in effect caring for the eggs. The parallels here, too, between the two ‘characters’ are quite evident: the stairs leading to the first floor seems similar to the small ladder attached to the attic. The crow, like Neha, is a mother-to-be. Neha, by caring for the crow, is trying to atone for her childhood sins. We appreciate the implication: the house is a nest, and Neha is the crow.
Many of Kashyap’s feature films work as excellent, isolated set pieces – where a good film form materialises with full force – but often fail to come together as a whole. The director, by that reason alone, should make impressive short films (and his piece for me, in Lust Stories , was the best of the lot). Bird , though, isn’t nearly half as impressive. You can pick and dissect, and be sporadically impressed by individual frames and stray strands of motifs. There’s enough ambiguity here to keep you guessing – is this a story of multiple miscarriages, of a distant oedipal bond, of a lifelong guilt – but it struggles to find a sense of cohesion. Bird , in essence, lacks an umbilical cord, continually connecting the audiences with the director: the filmmaker’s baby, as a result, is stillborn.
Banerjee’s segment, Monster , is more symbolic than Kashyap’s and is by far the best piece of the quartet. It opens to an anonymous man (Sukant Goel) – identified as “Visitor” in the end credits – entering a deserted countryside, Bisgarah (“Smalltown”). The place has just two survivors, both of them unnamed – “Little Boy” (Aditya Shetty) and “Little Girl” (Eva Ameet Pardeshi) – who detail the laws of the land. The Saugarah (“Bigtown”) people, Visitor is told, “ate the people of Smalltown”. To temporarily survive, the people of Smalltown began eating their own. The rules, as explained by Little Boy, are these: “If you move, you’ll die; if you speak, you’ll die; they don’t eat those who eat.”
A dominant society setting the rules for others, which, if not followed, can spiral into you getting lynched. These rules reduce people of Smalltown to non-people, worse than ‘second-class citizens’, who are forced to self-annihilate. The Bigtown people, in contrast, have become cannibals; moving zombie-like, they all look the same from a distance – a terrifying commentary on the perils of monoculture. (At the end of the film, we finally meet the ‘real’ people of Bigtown, who have nothing but disdain for Smalltown – especially Councilman (Gulshan Deviah), who asks Visitor, “Are you interested in history? Bigtown was once a touchstone mine. It was the capital of the state. We’ll be great again.”)
Also read: ‘Good Newwz’, the ‘Dharmafication’ of WhatsApp ‘Pati-Patni’ Jokes
Monster is an excellent example of layered and symbolic storytelling. Using clever hints, Banerjee constantly sustains our interest. When Visitor enters an abandoned classroom, we see an incomplete map of India – with nearly its entire western coast, including Gujarat, erased – on the blackboard. In the next scene, Smalltown’s school principal is vomiting in the courtyard, standing near a tricolour drooping from a pole. A complex film, designed to inform by being obscure, succeeds not because it is difficult to understand, but because it invites multiple points of engagement and interpretations: it compels you to revisit the piece (a crucial element lacking in Bird ).
Further, Monster has wonderful performances (Shetty, in particular, deserves praise for portraying a dubious boy with deceptive ease), even has flashes of humour and is marked by consistently impressive writing. It has some powerful visuals (especially of Visitor holding hands, begging for mercy from a bloodthirsty mob, which is disturbingly reminiscent of Mohammed Naeem , in Jharkhand, a few years ago). But a truly remarkable bit about this short is how it resists simplification, right till the very end, while still being riveting. We don’t even know its design: was it a dream or was it real? Perhaps a bit of both: a (bad) dream slowly becoming real.
Among all the filmmakers, Johar has perhaps had the most fun in the last two versions of this series. Unburdened by audiences’ expectations and producer’s demands – of making a blockbuster – he’s given himself space to breathe. His short in Bombay Talkies felt personal and poignant, while his Lust Stories piece was deliciously subversive and meta. Here, though, like Akhtar, he seems to be burdened by form, of making a ‘horror’ film, and as a result, his is the most trope-ey and disappointing segment of the lot.
Granny is about Ira (Mrunal Thakur), a young woman marrying an affluent man, Dhruv (Avinash Tiwary), who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with his (dead) grandmother. Dhruv needs her permission for everything; he wishes her good night, without fail, as a daily ritual. Even the housekeepers are in awe of the old lady.
Ira, quite justifiably, feels spooked and sidelined. It’s a very Rebecca -like set-up, the similarity finding echoes in story (replace the dead wife with the dead grandmother), characters (shifty housekeepers) and production design (a claustrophobia-inducing mansion). But Johar’s methods of invoking horror are painfully clichéd: characters shooting menacing glances, a door creaking open, the housekeeper standing with a flashlight held close to her face (even when the room is washed with light).
Johar gives us very little to hold on to, except brief flashes of meta commentary. I laughed out loud when Ira bursts into “fuck you granny” and, later, the granny returning the favour with, “Look at my fucking face.” A different decade, a different medium and an incredible amount of change: 2001, 19 years later, seems to belong to a different century now, when it was “all about loving your (grand) parents”.
Atlanta Falcons fire Arthur Smith after 7-10 season
The Atlanta Falcons have fired coach Arthur Smith after three seasons without a playoff appearance or a winning record.
Smith met with Falcons owner Arthur Blank and CEO Rich McKay on Sunday night, hours after a 48-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints sealed a 7-10 season. The Falcons had an outside chance to win the NFC South with a victory but were outscored 31-0 after halftime.
Smith finished 21-30 in his three seasons with the team.
"Decisions like this are never easy and they never feel good," Blank said in a statement. "We have profound respect for Coach Smith and appreciate all the hard work and dedication he has put into the Falcons over the last three years. He has been part of building a good culture in our football team, but the results on the field have not met our expectations. After significant thought and reflection, we have determined the best way forward for our team is new leadership in the head coaching position."
Smith returned to the Falcons' facility Monday morning to speak with players, many of whom learned about their former coach's fate over social media.
"He's an incredible guy and I think a phenomenal coach, honestly," said defensive end Calais Campbell . "Just as a person, he does everything the right way. He came and addressed us and told us how much we mean to him."
Linebacker Nate Landman called Smith's firing "disappointing." "Someone like Art ... Art's popular in this locker room, so sad to see him go, but I trust whatever decision they make upstairs and they have the best interest for the team in mind."
The team said a search for a new coach will begin immediately. It will be led by Blank and McKay, with input from general manager Terry Fontenot, who is keeping the job for which he was hired ahead of the 2021 season.
Sunday's game against the Saints was a low point for Smith. Atlanta scored touchdowns on its first two series, then managed just three points the rest of the way while being outscored 41-3 over the rest of a must-win game.
Smith left the field irate, yelling at Saints counterpart Dennis Allen as the two approached each other for a postgame handshake that never ultimately took place. Smith was upset that New Orleans scored on a late 1-yard run with the game all but over. Allen later apologized to Smith, saying Saints players made the call and the coaches never intended to try to score.
Smith was asked about his status afterward and what his case would be to continue with the team.
"With any job, you got a lot of confidence," he said. "I'm not going to give a state of the union right now of everything that's happened the last three years. The season just ended. Obviously wasn't the result we needed today and clearly the second half got out of hand. Credit to New Orleans."
Smith was brought in as an offensive-minded coach when he was hired in January 2021, with his previous job having been offensive coordinator of the Titans. Despite some young offensive weapons -- Atlanta used high-first-round picks on tight end Kyle Pitts , wide receiver Drake London and running back Bijan Robinson -- the offense never flourished, finishing 26th in scoring in 2021 and 2023 and tied for 15th in 2022. It never averaged more than 22 points in a season.
Inconsistent quarterback play has been a major problem, and one of the biggest questions for Smith's replacement will be how to handle the position. Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke are under contract for 2024, with Logan Woodside being a restricted free agent. Ridder has no guaranteed money on his rookie deal, and Heinicke would be owed only $2 million in dead money with $7 million of cap savings if let go.
The Falcons will pick eighth in the NFL draft in April.
Smith also went through two defensive coordinators, Dean Pees and Ryan Nielsen, the latter of whom turned the Atlanta defense into a formidable unit this season.
Blank and Fontenot now embark on a coaching search to try to turn around a franchise that has not finished with a winning record or made the playoffs since the 2017 season. The hire will be the seventh full-time coach in Blank's ownership of the team, dating to 2002.
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Terminally ill Connecticut woman ends her life on her own terms, in Vermont
FILE - In this image taken from video, Lynda Bluestein smiles during an interview in the living room of her home, Feb. 28, 2023, in Bridgeport, Conn. Bluestein, who pushed for expanded access to Vermont’s law that allows people who are terminally ill to receive lethal medication to end their lives, died in Vermont on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. Bluestein had terminal cancer and ended her life by taking prescribed medication. (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, File)
FILE - Lynda Bluestein poses for a selfie in Bridgeport, Conn. Bluestein, who pushed for expanded access to Vermont’s law that allows people who are terminally ill to receive lethal medication to end their lives, died in Vermont on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. Bluestein had terminal cancer and ended her life by taking prescribed medication. (Lynda Bluestein via AP, File)
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A Connecticut woman who pushed for expanded access to Vermont’s law that allows people who are terminally ill to receive lethal medication to end their lives died in Vermont on Thursday, an event her husband called “comfortable and peaceful,” just like she wanted.
Lynda Bluestein, who had terminal cancer, ended her life by taking prescribed medication.
Her last words were ‘I’m so happy I don’t have to do this (suffer) anymore,’” her husband Paul wrote in an email on Thursday to the group Compassion & Choices, which was shared with The Associated Press.
The organization filed a lawsuit against Vermont in 2022 on behalf of Bluestein, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Diana Barnard, a physician from Middlebury. The suit claimed Vermont’s residency requirement in its so-called patient choice and control at end of life law violated the U.S. Constitution’s commerce, equal protection, and privileges and immunities clauses.
The state agreed to a settlement last March that allowed Bluestein, who is not a Vermont resident, to use the law to die in Vermont. And two months later, Vermont made such accommodations available to anyone in similar circumstances, becoming the first state in the country to change its law to allow terminally ill people from out of state to take advantage of it to end their lives.
“Lynda was an advocate all the way through, and she wanted access to this law and she had it, but she and everybody deserves to have access much closer to home because the need to travel and to make arrangements around the scheduling to come to Vermont is not something that we wish for people to have, " Barnard said.
Barnard said it’s a sad day because her life came to an end, “But more than a silver lining is the beauty and the peace that came from Lynda having a say in what happened at the very end of her life.”
Ten states allow medically assisted suicide but before Vermont changed its law only one state — Oregon — allowed non-residents to do it, by not enforcing the residency requirement as part of a court settlement. Oregon went on to remove that requirement this past summer.
Vermont’s law, in effect since 2013, allows physicians to prescribe lethal medication to people with an incurable illness that is expected to kill them within six months.
Supporters say the law has stringent safeguards, including a requirement that those who seek to use it be capable of making and communicating their health care decision to a physician. Patients are required to make two requests orally to the physician over a certain timeframe and then submit a written request, signed in the presence of two or more witnesses who aren’t interested parties. The witnesses must sign and affirm that patients appeared to understand the nature of the document and were free from duress or undue influence at the time.
Others express moral opposition to assisted suicide and say there are no safeguards to protect vulnerable patients from coercion.
Bluestein, a lifelong activist, who advocated for similar legislation to be passed in Connecticut and New York, which has not happened, wanted to make sure she didn’t die like her mother, in a hospital bed after a prolonged illness. She told The Associated Press last year that she wanted to pass away surrounded by her husband, children, grandchildren, wonderful neighbors, friends and dog.
“I wanted to have a death that was meaningful, but that it didn’t take forever ... for me to die,” she said.
“I want to live the way I always have, and I want my death to be in keeping with the way I wanted my life to be always,” Bluestein said. “I wanted to have agency over when cancer had taken so much for me that I could no longer bear it. That’s my choice.”
Rathke reported from Marshfield, Vt.
What we know so far about the Iowa school shooting
Officials were called to Perry High School in Iowa on Thursday morning on reports of an active shooter.
Here is what NBC News has learned so far about the deadly violence.
When did the shooting take place?
Authorities were notified of the incident at roughly 7:37 a.m. Thursday local time and arrived within seven minutes. Classes were scheduled to start at 7:55 a.m. It was the first day of school after winter break.
Have any victims been identified?
Police said a sixth grader was killed and five other people were injured — four students and a school administrator. None of the victims’ names have been shared.
Has the shooter been identified?
The shooter was identified as Perry High School student Dylan Butler, 17, who authorities said appears to have acted alone. Officials said he appeared to have died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A motive is not yet clear, and the investigation continues.
What do gun laws look like in Iowa?
In Iowa, gun buyers are required to either present permits or undergo background checks. The minimum age to purchase a handgun is 21, and the minimum age to purchase a rifle or a shotgun is 18.
What other details have been released?
An official said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that the suspect took a small-caliber handgun and a pump action shotgun to school and that a “rudimentary” improvised explosive device was found on-site.
Where is Perry, and how large is it?
Perry is about 40 miles northwest of Des Moines. The city has a population of roughly 8,000 people, according to 2022 census data. Perry Community Schools has roughly 1,800 students, around 575 of them in high school.
What are community leaders saying after the incident?
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds posted Thursday on X : “Our hearts are broken by this senseless tragedy. Our prayers are with the students, teachers & families of the Perry Community.”
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said on X , “Join us in praying for the safety and recovery of those involved.” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, called the violence “appalling” and said he was grateful for a “quick response” by school officials and law enforcement agencies.
School District Board President Linda Andorf called the shooting “horrendously awful” and “disgusting.”
Joy Burton works in audience development for NBC News and MSNBC.
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Natalia Grace's bizarre case thrust her into the spotlight. Here's where the Ukrainian orphan is today.
- The strange case of Ukrainian orphan Natalia Grace Barnett is the focus of an ID docuseries.
- Part one, which aired in May 2023, investigates her adoptive parents' claims that she was secretly an adult.
- The second part, which premiered in January, covers Natalia's perspective and where she is now.
Natalia Grace Barnett garnered worldwide attention after her adoptive parents, Kristine and Michael Barnett, said that the Ukrainian-born Natalia hid her true age prior to her 2010 adoption and was secretly an adult when she joined their family.
Citing supposed sexual remarks from Natalia, as well as the Barnetts' claims that Natalia had pubic hair and menstruation cycles, Michael and Kristine were so convinced that Natalia, who has a rare form of dwarfism, was actually an adult that they successfully petitioned a court to change her birth year.
However, the couple were later charged with neglecting their adopted daughter after they moved Natalia into an apartment on her own in 2012 and subsequently left the country. The legal saga involving Michael, Kristine, and Natalia is the focus of the docuseries "The Curious Case of Natalia Grace," which aired its first part on Investigation Discovery in 2023.
The second part of the series, airing this week, features Natalia speaking out about her experience in her own words and even confronting Michael over his abandonment .
Here's where Natalia Grace is today.
Natalia Grace testified against her former adoptive father in court and is now living with a new family
The Barnetts first made their claims against Natalia public in 2019, when they were being charged with neglect of a dependent. They claimed that shortly after they adopted Natalia in 2010 she began exhibiting disturbing behaviors, including making threats of violence to family members. They believed Natalia was a 6-year-old child at the time of the adoption, they said.
"She threatened to stab my sons, drag their bodies outside, and bury them under the deck," Michael claimed in the first part of the ID documentary . "She tried to poison and kill my wife."
After they sent her to a psychiatric hospital, Michael and Kristine became convinced that Natalia was secretly an adult. Natalia has consistently denied all of the Barnetts' claims regarding her violent behavior and faking her age.
Even though her Ukrainian birth certificate said she was born in 2003, Michael and Kristine successfully had Natalia's birth year changed to 1989. (The successful change to Natalia's age later meant that the Barnetts could not be charged with child neglect when they left Natalia in Indiana and moved to Canada, as it made Natalia legally an adult.)
Shortly after that, in 2012, they moved Natalia into an apartment in Lafayette, Indiana, where she lived on her own. The Barnetts later moved to Canada, so their oldest son, a child prodigy working in theoretical physics, could begin his graduate work.
But Natalia couldn't live independently, according to her court testimony in the trial against Michael Barnett for neglect charges. She has spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia , a rare kind of dwarfism that can cause skeletal abnormalities and issues with vision and hearing. In court, Natalia said she was unable to bathe herself or use a washing machine due to her mobility issues and subsisted mostly on instant noodles, pizza, and peanut butter sandwiches.
During her second year of living alone, a neighbor connected her with the Mans family , who invited Natalia to live with them.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Mans Family (@themansfamily11)
Natalia Grace today
As of 2023, Natalia still lives with Cynthia Mans, her husband Antwon, and the couple's other children in the Mans' house. The Mans family, who run shared social-media accounts, frequently post photos with Natalia. They posted a Thanksgiving family photo with Natalia, and in September 2023, they marked Natalia's 20th birthday. As shown in the second part of the docuseries, genetic testing determined Natalia's true age to be around 22 years old as of August 2023, though legally, she is still 34.
Michael Barnett was acquitted of neglect charges in October 2022, and the case against Kristine Barnett was dismissed in March 2023 due to insufficient evidence.
Kristine Barnett, lawyers for Michael Barnett, and the Mans family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks" is currently airing on Investigation Discovery. You can see a clip from the second part below.
Watch: This Mexican teen was forcibly sent to the US after being mistaken for a Texas woman's abducted daughter
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Blessing of Same-Sex Couples Rankles Africa’s Catholics
It is out of step with the continent’s values, many bishops say, and threatens to derail expansion in the church’s fastest growing region in the world.
By John Eligon
Reporting from Mthatha, South Africa
The Vatican’s recent declaration allowing the blessing of same-sex couples caused a stir around the globe, but perhaps most of all in Africa, a rising center of the Roman Catholic Church’s future. In one statement after the next, bishops in several countries spoke of the fear and confusion the declaration has caused among their flocks, and said it was out of step with the continent’s culture and values.
The bishops also harbored a deeper fear: that in a place where the church is growing faster than anywhere else in the world, and where many forms of Christianity are competing for worshipers, the declaration could slow the church’s expansion on the continent.
Bishop John Oballa of the Ngong Diocese near Nairobi said that a woman had written to him saying that a friend told her he wanted clarification on the declaration, or else he would convert to the Methodist Church.
“There’s a lot of vibrancy in many, many dioceses of Africa,” Bishop Oballa said in an interview. “We need to safeguard against anything that might derail that growth.”
He said he would advise his priests to give blessings to same-sex couples only if they were seeking God’s strength in helping “to stop living in same-sex unions.”
But if the couple merely wanted a blessing and planned to continue living the way they were, “it may give the impression of recognition,” he said, adding that he would advise clergy “not to bless because it may be scandalous to others — it may weaken the faith of others.”
This past week, the Vatican sought to placate those bishops alarmed by the new rule, saying that allowances should be made for “local culture,” but that it would remain church policy. Bishops opposed to the change, it said in a statement, should take an “extended period of pastoral reflection” to wrap their heads around why the Vatican says the blessing of same-sex couples is in keeping with church teaching.
Home to 236 million of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, Africa accounted for more than half of the 16.2 million people who joined the church worldwide in 2021. As bishops and other church leaders on the continent deal with the fallout among their parishioners over the declaration, broader concerns have been raised about whether it could lead to a rift between Pope Francis and a region that is a demographic bright spot for Catholicism.
“I think there is a rebellion already that’s started to say, ‘We’re not going to implement this,’” said Father Russell Pollitt, the director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa, referring to the responses of bishops across the continent.
Some African clergy said they expected the Vatican and church leaders in Africa to work through their differences. But the declaration has complicated the relationship and will force difficult conversations between the church’s central authority and its African leaders. Some bishops have even hinted at a split between the values of African nations and the West, where some clergy had for years been running afoul of the Vatican’s guidance by blessing same-sex unions.
“In our African context, while recognizing the confusion existing in the more developed countries of new, unchristian models of ‘conjugal union’ and ‘styles of life,’ we are very clear on what a family and marriage is,” said a statement from the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops .
Without exception, church leaders in Africa have emphasized to their flocks that the declaration approved by Francis was explicit in saying that marriage remained a union between a man and a woman. They have stressed that the church’s doctrine on marriage has not changed, and that the declaration is about blessing the individuals, not their relationships.
Bishops in Malawi and Zambia have already said that, to avoid confusion, their clergy would be instructed not to give blessings to same-sex couples. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria did not take a firm position on the issue, and said in a statement that “asking for God’s blessing is not dependent on how good one is.” But it added that there was “no possibility in the church of blessing same-sex unions and activities,” a nod to the declaration’s nuance of blessing gay individuals not relationships.
The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference affirmed that distinction in its statement. But it went further in saying that the church’s position was that “all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, must be treated with the dignity that they deserve as God’s children, made to feel welcome in the church, and not be discriminated against or harmed.”
The Vatican’s declaration has laid bare a tension for the church in Africa: How can it welcome homosexuals while not upsetting believers who stand firmly behind the church’s teaching that homosexuality is a sin?
Some African church leaders feel strongly that they should not even talk about homosexuality “because it is un-African,” said Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of the Mthatha Diocese in South Africa, who is also the president of the Southern African conference. Others, he added, felt differently because they personally knew gay people. “It is not our experience that it’s this thing they got from Europe,” he said.
His conference has interpreted the declaration to mean that people in same-sex relationships can be blessed, he said, but individually and not presented together.
Months before the Vatican’s declaration, Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of the Karonga Diocese in Malawi delivered a fiery sermon accusing Western pastors of trying to bend the word of God to accept homosexuals as a way of attracting a larger pool of priests and other religious vocations.
“Any one of us pastors who champions this is just being heretical and fooling himself,” Bishop Mtumbuka said, according to an audio recording of the sermon, which circulated widely on social media after the Vatican’s declaration.
Francisco Maoza, 48, a parishioner who lives in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, said he was relieved when his country’s bishops said they would not permit blessings for same-sex couples.
“I still think the position by the pope is wrong,” said Mr. Maoza, a carpenter. “In the African context, even in Malawian culture, we don’t allow men and women to marry people of their own sex. So why should priests be allowed to bless such unions?”
Another Catholic in Malawi, Josephine Chinawa, said she felt that Francis needed to step down because of the declaration.
“I really couldn’t understand his motivation,” she said. “Maybe he is too old.”
However, Father Pollitt said that some church leaders in Africa were being hypocritical. While they severely criticize homosexuality, he said, they say little about other “irregular unions” identified in the Vatican’s declaration, such as unmarried heterosexual couples who live together. The document says that priests can bless them, too. There have also been many cases on the continent of priests breaking celibacy rules by having children, but that does not get the same scrutiny among church leaders, he said.
“Let’s face facts: There is a lot of homophobia in Africa,” Father Pollitt said.
How the controversy over the blessing of same-sex couples plays out in the long run in Africa remains an open question. Some analysts say there may end up being very little tension, primarily because few gay couples are expected to actually ask for blessings.
“I don’t think they would even have the courage to introduce their partners to their parents, let alone coming to receive a blessing from the priest,” Bishop Oballa said.
Bishop Sipuka said that the Vatican and African church leaders would eventually find a way forward.
“I foresee a softening of position, maybe, by some who have reacted very strongly, as the document gets explained and discussed,” he said.
Golden Matonga contributed reporting.
John Eligon is the Johannesburg bureau chief for The Times, covering a wide range of events and trends that influence and shape the lives of ordinary people across southern Africa. More about John Eligon