Starting life as a play it has been adapted to film, using the same directing, writing and acting talent as it did on stage. Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman deliver a strong macabre set of tales that are more sinister than the childish title Ghost Stories suggests. It is obvious the pair have a love for horror films, focusing on terror and leaning into the genre’s strengths and clichés which in a way makes it timeless as the genre tries so hard to surprise these days. This leads it to commit a cliché at the end of the film which will leave more than a few people rolling their eyes, but that’s after they’ve been left in a cold sweat.
The story follows Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman) an enthusiast for debunking the paranormal, who has been challenged to solve three paranormal cases. The setting is modern yet everyone seems to rely on older technology – VHS tapes and tape recorders are everywhere, while the scenes are drenched in shadow. The directors are very aware that what is hidden is far more terrifying for the audience than whatever they can put on screen, though there is no shortage of gruesome creeps and ghouls on show.
The three cases are unconnected and recounted to Professor Goodman by the victims. The three victims are played by Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther and Martin Freeman, who are all equally good in evoking fear and creepiness. As the audience watch these tales Treehouse-of-Horror style, it becomes clear the effects it’s having on Professor Goodman. Unlike many modern horror films, there’s no incentive to try and surprise the audience, which is surprising in itself. When it’s behind you, it’s behind you the first time – there’s no need to trick the audience. Paul Whitehouse is haunted in an abandoned building while working as a security guard and it is truly frightening. Alex Lawther is type-cast as a deranged and unhinged teenager who thinks he’s being followed by a demon and provides the films few laughs. While Martin Freeman steals the show as a man battling a poltergeist in his own home.
The stories themselves are interesting, but it’s the story following Professor Goodman that’s the centre-point. It leads into the theme of the film; it is what we imagine that is usually more terrifying than what could ever possibly happen. His efforts to prove that these cases are not supernatural don’t go very far, though at more than one point he wonders if he’s on a hidden reality show.
Ghost Stories is a true horror film, focusing on terror and the strengths of its genre, it will leave many viewers clutching their arm rests until the credits finally roll. Filled with very few moments of brevity, it’s an interesting character study of a man’s shortcomings and the ways we can torture ourselves. Whether as many people find the end to be as frustrating as I did is something we’ll have to wait and see but for now this is definitely a great addition to the genre.
Ghost Stories is out now.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam.