In that sleep of death, what dreams may come.
“Ghost Stories” is based on the spooky London West-End stage play by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman who both write and direct the film version. I didn’t know this until the end credits, but began to wonder in the final act where the action suddenly becomes very “stagey” in nature. The screenplay was always bound to be both bizarre and intriguing, since Dyson has been a past contributor to TV’s “League of Gentlemen” and other equally surreal programmes and Nyman has been a major collaborator with the stage-illusionist Derren Brown.
Nyman himself plays TV paranormal debunker Professor Goodman who receives a surprise message from a respected colleague, long thought dead, who on his death bed wants Goodman to investigate the three cases from his career that he was never able to debunk. The first concerns Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse, “The Death of Stalin“) as a night watchman at a spooky old asylum; the second concerns Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther, young Turing in “The Imitation Game“) as a freaked-out young man with a forest breakdown; and Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman, “Black Panther“) as a rich broker with parenting issues. As Goodman investigates each case weirder and weirder things start to happen: is this his mind playing tricks as his faith is rocked, or is there something more sinister going on?
The primary issue I have with this film is its portmanteau nature, harking back to similar films like “The Twilight Zone: the Movie”. Having three segments, loosely linked together, feels like a clunky device for a feature film…. (“Why are there three cases to investigate? Well, two would have made the film too short, and four would have made it too long!”).
That being said, the overall story arc and the drawing together of the strands for the unexpected (although not terribly original) conclusion, is intriguing.
The film looks and feels like a British-made horror film, which is both a compliment and a criticism. Who doesn’t like the jump-scares and the vague tackiness of a Hammer horror? But if you care to compare the production values on show here versus “A Quiet Place“, there is no comparison. The location-shot scenes (which are most of the scenes) seem to be very poorly lit: and that’s the non-spooky ones where you are supposed to see what’s going on!
The cast seem to be well-suited to their roles, with Paul Whitehouse in particular being impressive as the ‘on the make’ Matthews, who always feels like being on the knife-edge of violent outburst. I particularly liked Alex Lawther who does “spooked” extremely well! The script also seems to be well-tuned to the characters, with a number of laugh-out-loud lines. “****ing O2” exclaims Simon as he waves his mobile in the air… something the marketing department at the telecoms giant must have loved!
The critics seem to have been overtly positive about this film, which I can’t quite match. Apart from one or two scenes towards the end, all of the jump scares were pretty well signposted in advance. But it’s still as fun as a slightly tacky ghost house ride at the fairground, if you like that sort of thing, and is certainly a much more interesting and better watch in my book than some recent and much higher budget horror films like “It“.
Fad Rating: FFF.