This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Adapted from a play first performed in 2010 and since toured around the UK and worldwide, Ghost Stories is the brainchild of Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, long-time collaborator of Derren Brown and the unseen quarter of the League of Gentlemen respectively. Appropriately, the experience of watching Ghost Stories is like riding a funfair ghost train: rattling along, bursting through doors, watching creepy scene after creepy scene until a loop-the-loop finale that leaves you on a spectre induced high.
Ghost Stories follows Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman), a TV sceptic, as he tries to solve three cases with ties to the supernatural. These include a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) working in a former asylum, a teenager (Alex Lawther) whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and a businessman (Martin Freeman) awaiting the birth of his first child. Professor Goodman maintains that every ostensibly paranormal encounter has a rational explanation, but the more he learns about the unresolved incidents, the more his beliefs are tested.
Set against the milieu of a faded seaside town and the grey skied isolation of countryside living, the locations and landscapes in which Ghost Stories takes place are as much of a character as any of the cast. It’s a very cold and decaying world that’s created by the camera, one that successfully helps grow the unease of the audience. One of the creepiest scenes in the movie takes place in a shadowy and oppressive suburban family home with the uncanny image of two figures, completely motionless with their backs to the camera, made all the worse by the claustrophobic atmosphere of the house.
Ghost Stories brings back the once popular portmanteau style horror movie, favoured by Amicus Productions between the mid 1960’s and early 1970’s (Amicus itself borrowed the format from the 1945 Ealing classic Dead Of Night) it works perfectly with the stories here. On a surface level each story is linked by Professor Goodman’s task of solving them, but as each story is told more subtle connections are made. Feelings of guilt and shame work their way through the film culminating in the idea that the true ghosts are the ones we carry with us, born of our regrets.
Another thing Ghost Stories borrows from Amicus is the use of an excellent, British ensemble cast. Martin Freeman is the biggest name here and I hope his star power boosts the movie to attract a bigger audience than it would have otherwise. His Hooray Henry, ex-city banker is a really nasty little character that Freeman seems to be having a hoot with, tongue firmly planted in his cheek. Played far more subtly is Paul Whitehouse’s former Night Guard. His interview scene is painfully tense and his barely concealed hostility is a note perfect reaction for a character who has spent years not being believed. Utilising his skill of managing to be the best thing in a really good thing (see: Black Mirror and The End Of The F***ing World), Alex Lawther almost runs away with the whole movie. Simon is jittery and intense and raises a couple of much needed, tension relieving laughs. Simon’s section of the film is the one with the most potential to fall into silliness but Lawther’s performance in the pre-story interview is so unnerving it makes it one of the eeriest.
To return to my laboured funfair analogy, the third act twist is when it all starts to go a bit ‘house of mirrors’. Flipping the story back onto the Professor, this section is where the film is at its most theatrical and you can see how elements would have directly translated to a live stage performance. The twist itself is one of the most well-worn tropes in the history of storytelling and yet, in spite of this, the film sticks the landing thanks to the cast who carry the film sky high, the successful atmosphere building done up to that point and the sheer determination to make that ending work.
Ghost Stories breathes new life into a horror movie format long since fallen out of favour and with nothing more than an excellent cast and pure chutzpah, pulls off some of the oldest story telling tricks in the book. Seasoned horror fans won’t find anything new here, but sometimes an old story can still give you chills as long as it’s told well and Ghost Stories does exactly that, times three.
Ghost Stories is in UK cinemas now.