GHOST STORIES Review by Dan Collacott
Almost eight years after GHOST STORIES first premiered at the Liverpool Playhouse, the writing duo of Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson have adapted their acclaimed theatrical production for the big screen.
Like the play, Nyman takes the lead of semi-renowned paranormal skeptic Professor Goodman, a man whose life was dedicated to debunking urban myths and explaining the unexplainable.
Sublimely ironic then that given Andy Nyman’s real life role creating the magic behind Derren Brown’s stage performances, he begins the film exposing the nefarious practices of a stage psychic!
Goodman’s life takes an unexpected turn when he is challenged by a former mentor to investigate and resolve three unsolved hauntings.
The Night Watchman
The first case centers on night watchmen Tony Matthews, played by Paul Whitehouse, whose darkly comic turn is pitch perfect for this role. The tale is relived through Matthew’s eyes during a night shift in an abandoned building (no idea why you need security to police a run down former mental hospital but let’s not dwell on that). In the small hours of the morning he finds that some kind of paranormal entity is playing cat and mouse games with him, before eventually luring him into a room for the final chilling reveal.
Goodman listens but remains unmoved, dismissing the episode as a manifestation of guilt relating to Matthews neglect of his hospitalised and comatose daughter.
The Troubled Teen
The second case revolves around Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther, ‘Black Mirror’, ‘The End of The F**king World’), a boy in his late teens acutely disturbed by a recent disquieting paranormal experience. Rifkind, whilst driving from a party late at a night finds himself breaking down next to some woodland, which sounds innocent enough except moments earlier he had run over a strange and terrifying creature. Lawther brilliantly dials up the paranoia and neurosis to incredible levels of discomfort.
The Tragic Widower
The final case revolves around obnoxious trader and recently widowed Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman). Priddle describes a series of poltergeist like events that take place in the family nursery. The impact of these events is amplified when it turns out Priddle’s wife had died whilst giving birth at the same time as the ghostly activity. As the tale concludes Mike cuts a more sympathetic and tragic figure, left alone to raise the cursed child that killed his wife and condemned him to misery.
Before Priddle’s story can conclude the plot unravels with a clever twist surrounding Goodman’s own childhood backstory. Piecing together a series of plot breadcrumbs, carefully and ingeniously laid-out throughout each of the three core stories. Eventually we learn the shocking and hideous truth behind Goodman and his own hidden demons.
Ghost Stories is a seriously fun old school horror romp that successfully riffs on 60s and 70s anthology horror films.
Each story carefully builds towards its climatic finale. The execution and impact of each reveal varies, but all are delivered with impressive physical effects and character/creature design.
The most chilling moments are actually woven into the background of the film, usually in the more mundane moments, or the subtle (or not so subtle) clues that allude to something beyond the main plot. The layers underneath the main narrative elevates Ghost Stories from a straight low budget horror, to a high concept piece of flawed but often thrilling escapism that will only get better on each re-watch.
Dirs. Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman, UK, 2017, 98 mins, certificate 15
Cast: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther
In Cinemas 6th April, 2018