“Butterfly Effect” director Eric Bress pays tribute to Ambrose Bierce’s classic short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” in his second feature film “Ghosts of War” (*** OUT OF ****), a hallucinatory Gothic horror chiller set during World War II. A quintet of American infantrymen suffering from PTSD receive orders to occupy a chateau in Nazi-occupied France in 1944. The soldiers that they relieve cannot clear out fast enough, even abandoning some of their gear in their haste.

Not only do our heroes tangle with the German Army, but they also find themselves stalked by the chateau’s supernatural residents. Partly, “Ghosts of War” draws on Sidney Pollack’s atmospheric, World War II epic “Castle Keep” (1969), starring Burt Lancaster. In that wartime tale, a handful of Americans defended a 10th century castle against a German blitzkrieg. In “Ghosts of War,” the Americans learn eventually that the Germans inflicted horrible atrocities on the chateau family before they murdered them.

As it turns out, this family had provided aid and comfort to many Jewish concentration camp escapees that they had hidden in the chateau, and the Nazis exacted lethal retribution. They hanged the daughter, incinerated the father, drown the little boy, and shot the mother. Similarly, the soldiers in “Ghosts of War” confront a predicament that invites comparison with Michael Mann’s World War II mystery-thriller “The Keep” (1983).

Based on F. Paul Wilson’s bestselling novel, this ghoulish yarn pitted the Gestapo against a supernatural demon haunting a Romanian castle. Mind you, “Ghosts of War” doesn’t try to scare the Hades out of you. Instead, it generates a palatable aura of suspense and tension. Often Bress foreshadows the surprising revelations awaiting audiences near the end, but you’ll never appreciate these hints until you watch what happens during the final moments. Many things that don’t seem to matter during the first hour take on harrowing significance in those last moments.

When we first meet Lieutenant Chris Goodson (Brenton Thwaites of “Gods of Egypt”) and his unit, they are asleep around a large tree on a winter night. Intellectual Eugene (Skylar Astin of “Pitch Perfect”), macho-minded Butchie (Alan Ritchson of “Fired Up!”), argumentative Kirk (Theo Rossi of “Cloverfield”) and their unhinged psycho sniper Tappert (Kyle Gallner of “Red State”) constitute the remnants of his command.

Awakening suddenly in a state of alarm, Goodson spots the silhouette of a man watching them on the other side of the tree. This anonymous individual casually lights a cigarette while Goodson struggles quietly to extract his .45 caliber automatic pistol from its holster. Meantime, the other four soldiers remain blissfully asleep.

The clock-like formation of their camp as they dream away under dark skies seems peculiar. Suddenly, Goodson realizes he has been hallucinating! Nobody was aiming a gun at him! The lieutenant has been on the line too long. Later, when his men and he relieve the troops at the chateau, the supernatural horror that lurks within takes a toll on them. The leader of the four survivors, Goodson doesn’t resort to heroic postures to underline his authority.

When they arrive a day late at the chateau, the G.I.s they are replacing cannot wait to pull out. They dodge all questions about the chateau in their irate alacrity to depart. Initially, before the chateau begins to haunt them like the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980) with Jack Nicholson spiraling into insanity, these guys think they have it made on easy street.

Inevitably, when the Germans launch an attack, “Ghosts of War” seems like a conventional combat outing again. Butchie suffers the worst wound. During this brief but devastating skirmish, in a self-sacrificing display of heroism, Butchie hurls himself onto a grenade and loses both arms.

After he recovers from his wounds, he starts screaming repeatedly, “This is not real!” Tappert enjoys extracting gold fillings from the teeth of dead Germans and slices off their insignia patches as souvenirs. This ensemble of gifted actors provides charismatic but believable performances. Above all else, Bress emphasizes their camaraderie. Apart from their similar olive-drab uniforms and helmets, Bress has gone to considerable lengths to differentiate each individual personality.

Occasionally, sterling cinematography can enhance a movie. In this instance, ”Hellboy” lenser Lorenzo Senatore makes “Ghosts of War” look absolutely mesmerizing, despite the annoying revelations at the end that will spin your head like a whirligig. When the G.I.s prowl the chateau, the camera accompanies them with such unobtrusive fluidity that you feel you’re actually walking with them. Bress and he induce some genuinely eerie moments strictly with the position of their cameras.

Senatore endows everything with a surrealistic look. The night scenes around the chateau look particularly spooky as the evening mist thickens. Most of the horror is ephemeral, twice as effective only because it is glimpsed rather than drawn-out. Senatore conjures up these ominous images in part owing to Antonello Rubino’s absorbing production designs and Ivan Ranghelov’s evocative art direction.

Writer & director Bress goes off on a tangent during the final 20 minutes. He turns “Ghosts of War” into a completely different movie like Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” (2011). Sudden changes take place reminiscent of Ambrose Bierce’s creepy short story. Unfortunately, Bress veers off into a wholly different universe, altering the situation in a confusing last-minute reversal, while trying to justify it with improvised explanations that further undermine everything.

The World War II narrative that dominates the first 70 minutes is gripping stuff. You shouldn’t have nightmares watching “Ghosts of War.” Of course, ghouls do spring out of nowhere and intimidate our heroes. Several effective jump scares occur during the opening half-hour.

Doors slam; lights blow out; dead spirits dangle from nooses; and curtains fly apart in abrupt drafts, etc. You might sleep with a night light. The R-rated military violence isn’t as nauseating as “Saving Private Ryan.” Nevertheless, soldiers are shot abruptly, without warning, and a sinister bathtub dribbling murky water awaits its next drowning victim. Unfortunately, “Ghosts of War” falls just short of spellbinding.

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