Ghost Stories

Posted: April 23, 2018 in Film reviews, horror
Tags: , ,

Directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson. Starring Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther and Martin Freeman.

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Phillip Goodman (Nyman) is a professor who specialises in debunking fraudulent mediums and explaining the unexplainable. He wants to prevent people’s lives being ruined by superstition, and was inspired by a 1970s paranormal investigator named Charles Cameron, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances decades ago, and is now believed dead.

When Goodman is contacted by the very much still alive Cameron he’s thrilled, but when he visits the old man in a ramshackle caravan, he is dismayed to learn that Cameron now believes in the supernatural. He passes three cases he could never debunk to Goodman, challenging him to explain them.

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The first involves a night watchman (Whitehouse) who encountered something unearthly in a disused sanatorium, the second is a teenager (Lawther) whose life has been turned upside down after he drove into something inhuman in the woods. Finally there is a rich financier (Freeman) who was plagued by a poltergeist on the eve of the birth of his child.

Goodman can explain each incident, but is he merely deluding himself? Is the supernatural actually real, and if so will Goodman survive his own encounter with the paranormal?

 

For those of us of a certain age, there are fond memories of kind of portmanteau horror stories that used to be on BBC2 late on a Friday or Saturday night. Best known producer of such films was Amicus productions, who churned out multiple such films in the 1960s and 70s, films like Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. Such films usually followed a familiar pattern, a series of stories linked by a framing story that would invariably contain a twist in the tale. Of course even before Amicus got in on the act there’d been the 1945 Ealing classic Dead of Night. There have been American takes on this too; Creepshow for example, but for me it’s those old British chillers I have affection for, and so on a purely nostalgic basis I was excited to see Ghost Stories.

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Adapted by Nyman and Dyson from their own stage play I can’t call Ghost Stories an unqualified success, but even beyond a nostalgic yearning for those old-fashioned portmanteaus, there’s enough here to make this a scarily enjoyably film, just not a perfect one.

As with any anthology, in film or print, some stories work better than others, and the first two tales on offer represent the highlights of the film. Once you get past expecting him to go all Fast Show on you, Whitehouse is actually very good as the night-watchman all alone yet not really alone. There’s a palpable sense of unease as he makes his rounds through the dilapidated building, and the directors really ratchet up the tension here. They almost take it too far, there’s a limit to how long you can conceivably stay on the edge of your seat waiting for the scare you know is coming, but they stay just the right side of it.

The second story is almost as creepy, especially once you factor in Goodman’s visit to the teenager’s house which is genuinely unsettling. Anyone who’s seen the Black Mirror episode Shut Up and Dance will know how well Lawther can do on the edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown levels of terror, and Nyman and Dyson make good use of it here, it’s a wonderfully fragile performance from Lawther and the lonely forest makes an equally scary counterpoint to the deserted sanatorium.

Sadly it’s kind of downhill from this point. Freeman is very good but the third tale feels limp in comparison to the first two (though there is one really effective jump scare as Goodman and Freeman’s character walk the moors) and from here on the film enters its final act and reveals the twist, and this is where the film falls down, because the ending has a bit too much going on, it feels baggy and in some respects unearned. There are elements that are utterly predictable (seriously if you don’t see one particular twist coming a mile away you need to go to Spec Savers) and others that aren’t nearly predictable enough, although there is a lot of foreshadowing and it’s possible that I might appreciate the final act more upon second viewing.

At times genuinely terrifying, with great performances, assured direction and a palpable sense of old school dread, there’s a lot to like here, I just wish the second half of the film had lived up to the opening segments, but that’s anthologies for you.

Anyway, I must go, it’s time for me to tell my story to Peter Cushing and my other fellow travellers on this old steam train. As for Ghost Stories, it’s flawed but recommended.

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“Who are you calling a hobbit?”

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