Thu, 19 Apr 2018
Ghost Stories (15)
Running time 1hr 38min
MISSING from Ghost Stories’ trailers is a black vein of irreverence – comedy would be too strong a term – running all the way through it. On one level, it’s a bleakly effective landscape of darkness and despair, yet co-directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson (the latter best-known for his work with the indispensable League of Gentlemen) are also keen to stitch together a fright-night pastiche of the kind popular in their youth. To top it all off, it’s an adaptation of Nyman and Dyson’s hit West End play, and the scares, spread out over three interlinked stories, have a delightfully jumpy, theatrical quality to them.
Tonally, then, there’s a lot going on; in less capable hands, one element could easily have drowned out all the others (and, admittedly, there are times when the layers chime together discordantly). Bringing TV drama to the multiplex has always proven a terrible risk, and the big screen can often seem a whole world apart from that of the stage – something is bound to get lost in the transfer, not least when you’re dealing with populist horror of the blatant, creaky-doored, bang-bang-jump variety. Ghost Stories readily embraces the challenges of this new terrain – while some sequences (especially those comprising Martin Freeman’s showstopper segment) are possessed of a certain theatricality, it’s shamelessly a piece of cinema, giddy in its execution and subtly ambitious in its scope.
Unlike the anthology screamathons, it appears, in part, to be aping (see George Romero’s seminal Creepshow, or 1975’s – rather more dated – Trilogy of Terror), the sections here are wedded to an overarching narrative; far from redundant filler, the main plot acts as an effective foil, every bit as essential as the shenanigans of the title. Right up to the ending, a masterclass in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cinema, the onlooker is filled with a sense of foreboding infinitely more frightful than the actual jump-scares, as if what we’re watching is but a fragment – forces we can’t quite put our fingers on are at work here. It’s a fantastically sophisticated conceit, betrayed only gradually and judiciously by the old-school pacing of the screenplay.
Paranormal investigator Phillip Goodman (played by Nyman), a lifelong rationalist, is about to have his faith shaken. His former idol, a TV mythbuster gone mysteriously AWOL, resurfaces to point Goodman towards three cases which, he claims, have shaken his scepticism to its foundations. Tony (Paul Whitehouse), a night-watchman, has been traumatised by an encounter involving a possessed radio; Alex Lawther’s teenager tells of a vehicular run-in with a fiend, while troubled yuppie Mike (Freeman), in the bleakest of the yarns, is haunted by the ghost of his own child. Whitehouse nurses a barely-concealed capacity for rage and violence in a role that has drawn well-deserved acclaim, yet Lawther is, for my money, underrated – those who were shocked by his morbid, gangly turn in Black Mirror are in for a treat here. Ghost Stories finds a window into the most awkward recesses of the viewer’s soul, chilling us to the bone just as we begin to lose ourselves in its pants-down pottiness. Character development may seem a little thin on the ground at times, but this is bite-sized horror at its
ghoulish best, a macabre slice of authentically British filmmaking.