Director:Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Starring: Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, Martin Freeman. UK. 1h 32m
By the time I had seen the trailer for this movie it was already being slated by a lot of the horror community, apparently it just isn’t scary enough, and looking back I can see where they are coming from, while I wholeheartedly disagree. If I were 18-19 and now venturing into the horrific side of cinema I think I would also be confused and high disappointed but this drama based horror, my hype train would be derailed and I left in tears.
There’s nothing quite like Ghost Stories out in the market today, there are no strange Swedish cults, no crazy CGI monsters, and no hint whatsoever of creepy clowns or a Sharknado. The main reason, well it’s based on a stage play and therefore it won’t be like all the rest, it’s been dutifully adapted in a pretty sensitive manner to really play off the original stag setting. The star of the production a character named Phillip Goodman (Nyman), speaks to the audience about his history and current job, which involves poo pooing the cold readers, fake psychics and charlatans who fool us into believing there’s an afterlife and a paranormal world around us, is this the life of Darren Brown?
After messing up a cold reading stage act, he receives a letter from his idol, a character who he thought was lost to time, but apparently he’s alive and well and living in a shabby caravan in the middle of nowhere, this James Randi type character is at death’s door but has three cases of the strange which he cannot find any fault with, and tasks our hero Goodman with looking into those cases and trying to piece together the truth.
This is when the magic happens, Goodman takes us into a trip in the dark while working the night shift, a young boy is haunted by demons, not necessarily possession but beasts that stalk the wild British forests, and finally a city salary-man discovers something in his child’s empty playroom. But while these tales are told in a wholesome and solid fashion, they aren’t sensationalised, there isn’t months of CGI work and choreographed stunts, directors Dyson and Nyman manage to really cast the stage onto the screen in a particular manner. Much like Company of Wolves (1984) which for me is one of the most impressive plays made into a lavish dreamlike movie which really captures the imagination, Ghost Stories is quite different, for the most past it’s a movie which dips in and out of the limitations of the stage, but it plays with moving sets and perceptions in very knowledgeable ways, often you feel as if the carpet is being pulled out from underneath you and it feels great.
There is a grand feeling throughout that this is a British ghostly horror story through and through, all of the ideas seem to be translated from days gone by (Hammer Horror maybe?), and for the most part it’s very aware of keeping things in that creepy atmosphere rather than banging out millions of false jump scares, loud dramatic music desperately trying to grab it’s audience by the throat and choke them with expensive techniques. Instead the film is a quiet whisper of fear, a formal conversation about what unknown elements from realms we know little about could possibly scares a person. And while it can get away with it, there’s an air of the British stiff upper lip, until it all goes to hell in a more furious and delusional like final act.
The pace changes and everything we knew about the movie and its characters transform into something more surreal and dynamic, while adapting to this the film pulls that carpet out again, the visuals elements float in and out of the movie, people age and shrink into children, re living private hell, this isn’t about other people anymore, it’s all about Goodman as we follow him down the rabbit hole, down a train track and into an abandoned tunnel…
It could have been an all guns blazing horror, stripping all the personality and spirit from the original play and forming it into an easily brought by the dozen styled horror movie, but I’m so proud that it stood by its own convictions and gives us something that we didn’t realise we needed but looking around at a lot of dull horror titles, by Jove we really do need this in our lives. A well written, superbly acted horror, that does more with simple techniques and relying on quality than quantity, providing great thrills, resulting in a very memorable and charming spine chiling movie.
R: In Fabric (2019), Company of Wolves (1984)
L: Modern British Horror