REVIEW: Ghost Stories
– By Stephen Harper
To say I’m a tad disappointed that I missed the play Ghost Stories when it appeared at The Liverpool Playhouse, UK is an understatement as it’s not only the city in which I reside, but it became quite the phenomenon as well.
I always remember seeing the promotional material outside the theatre in which it only showed photographs of the audience reactions and nothing of the play itself, you could clearly see people were genuinely scared. Also it’s written by Jeremy Dyson (The League Of Gentleman) and Andy Nyman (best known for collaborating with Derren Brown) and I’m a huge fan of both, so I’ve literally kicked myself very hard since!
Anyways….because of its success both have decided to adapt it into a movie version, so at least I get that.
Nyman plays Professor Philip Goodman, a psychologist and complete sceptic regarding all things supernatural. He basically makes a living out of debunking the phenomenon and exposing frauds on his own television show. Goodman’s biggest test comes in the form of three cases he’s given to investigate that may just prove the paranormal is real and change his mind.
The first being the case of a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) who’s night shift patrolling an abandoned asylum throws up some creepy chills. The second involving young teen (Alex Lawther) who’s late night drive through a dark woodland is horrific fantasy fun, and finally the case of a wealthy businessman (Martin Freeman) and his poltergeist experience involving his unborn child.
All three stories are pretty good. Nothing that hasn’t been seen before and jump-scares that are slightly predictable, but nevertheless good fun. What propels them are their performances. All three actors are extremely good in each of the stories, but for me Alex Lawther stole every scene. He’s an amazing talent and I’ve loved his performances in both TV’s Black Mirror and The End Of The F***ing World. He’s got a quirky way of acting, very unorthodox, but so watchable. In fact his story was the one I actually liked best. He plays Simon Rifkind who’s just failed his driving test, but hasn’t got the nerve to tell his extremely strict parents. He’s making his way home in their car through a very dark, isolated forest when he accidentally hits something. As he gets out of the car to investigate he realizes it’s actually not human and soon discovers he’s not alone in the forest. Lawther’s nervy-mannerisms are just exquisite for a story such as this and he only gets better later in the story during his scenes with Nyman.
Once the anthology cases are played out we are then presented with a backstory involving Professor Goodman when he was a young teen and his involvement in the death of another boy at the hands of bullies.
As the film gallops towards its climax it’s apparent that we’re going to be handed a twist ending or big reveal. This is where Ghost Stories becomes a little tricky because I sense people are either going to love or hate its ending. Unfortunately I guessed some of the ending half way through the film, but rather than spoil the reveal I just became personally frustrated by it all. It’s very hard to explain everything in a review without delving into spoiler-territory, but the film is a little too ambiguous which I normally love, but in this case I just didn’t want.
On the whole Ghost Stories is a wonderfully crafted film. Its entire atmosphere feels like a 60’s/70’s British horror, with so many elements harping back to the nostalgic Hammer, folk and even episodic Tales Of The Unexpected, but it just lacked a bit of closure for me. Because its build up was so good I felt slightly unsatisfied, but that’s a personal gripe.