Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman
Stars: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, Paul Warren, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Samuel Bottomley, Jake Davies.
This anthology of supposedly spooky supernatural stories works best as a homage of sorts to the old Hammer horror films of yesterday, in particular films like Dead Of Night from 1945. The three spooky encounters contained here are linked together by the presence of Phillip Goodman (played by co-writer and co-director Andy Nyman).
Goodman is a cynical professor who specialises in debunking psychic phenomena and exposing charlatan mediums for his television show Psychic Cheats. His hero and inspiration was Charles Cameron, a legendary psychologist who made a career out of disproving paranormal activity. But Cameron disappeared under mysterious circumstances several years earlier. Then unexpectedly Goodman receives a package purporting to be from Cameron, and he is invited to visit the reclusive sceptic at his trailer home by the beach. Cameron presents Goodman with three challenging paranormal cases to investigate and try to prove whether the supernatural encounters were real or not.
The three cases are – Toby Matthews (Paul Whitehouse, from The Death Of Stalin, etc), a nightwatchman in an asylum who reported a supernatural encounter with a ghoulish girl one night during a blackout; schoolboy Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther, from It’s The End Of The F***ing World, etc), whose car hit a demonic figure while driving through the woods one night, an encounter that had terrifying consequences; and Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman, from The Hobbit trilogy, etc), a smarmy retired investment banker who tells of a disturbing encounter with paranormal phenomena while his pregnant wife was in hospital before shooting himself.
Small details in each of these cases though remind Goodman of troubling events from his own past. Goodman suffers flashbacks to his childhood when he was bullied, and also recalls another incident in which an autistic boy named Desmond died when trapped in a tunnel. The ending itself makes us re-evaluate everything that we have seen previously. It reminded me strongly of Jacob’s Ladder, Adrian Lynne’s unsettling 1990 drama starring Tim Robbins as a traumatised Vietnam veteran who suffers from paranoid nightmares and visions that turn out to be something different altogether.
Ghost Stories was conceived by Jeremy Dyson (a former member of the comedy troupe The League Of Gentlemen) and Nyman (a magician and actor who has devised several tv specials for mind reader and psychic Derren Brown) in 2010. The pair first met as 15-year olds and bonded over a mutual love of horror films, and they make their feature film directorial debut with Ghost Stories. The play itself enjoyed a successful two-year run in London’s West End. There is little doubting that some of the artifices here worked better on stage. This is an unsatisfying and lacklustre horror offering that is not particularly scary, although Dyson and Nyman do manage to stage a couple of effective jump scares. Unfortunately, little of what happens here is scary or particularly revolutionary in the horror genre. It is also a bit of a mess, especially during its third act. The story involving Lawther and his demonic encounter is the least satisfying of the three tales here.
However, the sound design is effective with its use of creepy voices, the sound of the wind howling across the moors and the creaks and groans. Cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland (the recent American Animals, etc) uses a moody, dark palette to create a certain unsettling surface look.