Adapting their hugely successful stage play, Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman hit the big screen with one of the most eagerly-awaited British horror films for some time. Thankfully, they are cineliterate enough to skilfully transfer their work and scare the pants off a whole new audience.
Philip Goodman (Nyman) is a professional sceptic, an academic who has made it his life’s work to debunk and unmask the paranormal cheats that prey on the weak-willed and emotionally vulnerable. He’s intrigued, then, when he receives word that his sceptic hero George Cameron (Leonard Bryne), whom the world believed to be dead since he vanished from the public eye decades ago, is alive but not so well and has requested a meeting. He gives him a file containing three case studies that he says convinced him that the negative stance they always held was wrong and there is indeed something to the paranormal.
The first case involves a warehouse night watchman (Whitehouse) who experienced something in his deserted workplace, then a teenager who swears he ran over a demon. The final, and arguably most disturbing, story has Freeman’s snobbish City trader who blames a poltergeist on his wife’s pregnancy problems. At first glance, they have little in common, but as Goodman finds out, ‘the mind sees what it wants to see’.
Taking the form of an anthology of sorts, much in the style of the Amicus films of the sixties and seventies that we all (the filmmakers included) loved, Ghost Stories goes one step further by remaining grittily down to earth in the way it’s shot and the delivery of the eerie accounts. While the older films had the ghoulish whimsy of EC horror comics, Dyson and Nyman play it dourly straight and sombre. Which is not to say there are no laughs, as there certainly are, but it’s never to the detriment of the tales. Likewise, there are subtle nods to classic horror films (and a blatant one in the case of The Evil Dead) that will keep die-hard fans smiling. It’s the way in which the psychological tension and dread builds that makes the film a winner, though.
The three stories are all brilliantly relayed in an almost effortless way, and there’s an undercurrent of social commentary throughout. People are casually racist, off-the-cuff anti-Semitic, or mistrusting of mental health issues. All which is tackled in a grand finale that is the definition of pulling the rug.
Without utilising every trick in the Big Book of Classic Horror, Ghost Stories manages to engage as well as chill. The jumps are there, but the real terror is in the deliberate pace and occasionally understated acting, which is particularly impressive considering the theatrical pedigree of the story.
Ghost Stories is a film that people will go back to, attempting to pick apart the threads and clues that are laid in front of them ahead of the devastating climax. Beautifully shot and expertly realised, it’s the sort of horror movie we’ve been waiting for.
GHOST STORIES / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JEREMY DYSON, ANDY NYMAN / STARRING: ANDY NYMAN, MARTIN FREEMAN, PAUL WHITEHOUSE, ALEX LAWTHER, PAUL WARREN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10