Ghost Stories (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Maybe I’m the sucker born every minute, but I had a ball with Ghost Stories, a novel, cheeky, little carnival funhouse of a movie that offers some pretty clever twists and turns.
Definitely a movie you want to pay attention to. Lots of secrets, hints, giveaways, and surprises along the way. Rather clever in execution if you ask me…
Martin Freeman’s performance here is pretty terrific and a reminder just how great an actor he truly is and can be.
Horror movie? Nah, I’m good.
Ghost Stories may not be the scariest or most suspenseful movie you will ever see. So those looking for something with a harder edge, may find this rather trivial.
For some, Ghost Stories seems at odds with itself - relying on too many nods and winks to the past, placing too much emphasis on its surprise twist, and not having enough meat on the bone for it’s trip of incident stories to make anything much matter by the end.
Adapting their wildly popular British stage production, first performed at the Liverpool Playhouse in February 2010, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s Ghost Stories is a clever and concise compendium of suspense and horror that pops you for a jump scare or two, but also keeps you guessing and trying to figure out just what binds everything together.
Whereas Nyman lectures the audience in the playhouse, here he initially speaks to the camera, informing us that he is Phillip Goodman, a professor who specializes in debunking psychics, and other supernatural charlatans who claim to have gifts easily disproven. He has a popular program, “Psychic Cheats,” but soon after we learn of this, the film shifts out of its mockumentary framing and becomes a more conventional film.
Goodman receives a package from one of his boyhood idols, Charles Cameron. Himself a paranormal investigator, he has mailed Goodman materials on three cases he was never able to solve. On a visit to Cameron’s home, he finds his idol, elderly, in declining health and living destitute, alone, in a trailer.
The first case involves a night watchman named Tony (Paul Whitehouse), who shares a story involving an unexplained encounter at a woman’s mental health facility. Story number two involves skittish teenager Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther), who borrowed his parents’ car one evening and drove into a frightening and otherworldly experience. Lastly, Goodman visits financier Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman), who recounts a supernatural series of events coinciding with his wife, in the hospital, expecting to give birth to their first child.
As Goodman moves from case to case, he finds odd curiosities about what he finds. Tony has a hair-trigger of a temper. A picture at Simon’s house gives him great pause and Mike’s mile-a-minute cadence in telling his story has an unforeseen purpose. All in all, Ghost Stories takes great delight in surveying the scene with you, as a viewer.
Ole Bratt Birkeland’s camera induces an urgent, investigatory feel to the film, but also reminds us of someone unsure of their surroundings - looking left, right, around a corner cautiously, the sense of being scared of becoming scared.
This works exceedingly well because the movie feels dated, and always slightly off-kilter. In many ways, Nyman and Dyson are paying tribute to the old school horror they clearly are fans of from their younger days.
The performances all add great seasoning to the mixture the tandem are concocting. Ultimately, there is more going on here than just three unsolved mysteries, and once the third story concludes, everything goes off the rails. I will refrain from sharing much else, but let’s say that the twist awaiting you, is not so much a “gasp”-inducing series of events, but more of an “Ah Ha!” moment.
One piece of advice: Just pay attention. Take in as much as you can.
Ghost Stories has lots of fun little embeds and Easter eggs for clues, and a few rabbit holes to throw you off the path of the funhouse it steers you through. A second viewing is definitely needed, because by the end of the film, I instantly recognized that I missed a few things along the way.
All in all, Ghost Stories is pretty great. Nyman, an actor, but also a mentalist and magician, has worked over the years with famed British illusionist Derren Brown (tucked away here with a cameo). Nyman is a deft storyteller and toys with manipulation through his screenplay. Dyson, a comedic author and writer, infuses the film with a knack of uneasy laughter and anxiety, most pronounced in Freeman’s expedient line readings and Lawther’s manic nature.
Ghost Stories checks the boxes of a movie that keeps you on edge, plays with your heart rate a bit, but leaves you just fine at the end. Personally, I found plenty to enjoy here and this is a movie that will work great as the answer to that age-old question people get all the time…
“What’s a good scary movie I haven’t seen yet?”
CAST & CREW
Starring: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, Paul Warren, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Nicholas Burns, Jake Davies.
Director: Andy Nyman, Jeremy Dyson
Written by: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Adapted from the stage production “Ghost Stories”, written by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman
Release Date: April 20, 2018