Much of Ghost Stories evokes the kind of fear experienced when laying in bed late at night. You know, because you’re an adult, that there can’t possibly be a demonic, ghostly figure huddled in the corner of your room, slowly creeping towards you in the darkness – yet, regardless, you can’t turn around because if it were there, you wouldn’t be able to handle it.
Adapted from Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman’s stage play of the same name, Ghost Stories is a frightening and fun exploration of scepticism and the unknown; it follows professional sceptic Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman) as he sets about debunking three paranormal cases that have stumped even the very best. As this ghost train trundles along on rickety tracks, we get to see each case played-out, while Phillip Goodman interviews those involved.
And what a ride it is. Beginning with Tony Matthews’ (Paul Whitehouse) incident in an abandoned asylum, Ghost Stories knows exactly what kind of audience it’s catering to. All three tales of despair are dripping with recognisable scares, and Nyman uses every trick in the horror handbook to terrify. While this doesn’t always lead to a climactic, scary set-piece, what does occur is a consistent sense of unease.
Part of this is helped by the presentation of Ghost Stories. It begins in a documentary format, where the Professor affirms the manta of ‘the brain sees what it wants to see’, but quickly switches into a more traditional storytelling style. Make no mistake, though; despite the seeming familiarity, the film’s plot takes some directions that keep things anything but comfortable. Abrupt cuts to each subsequent story give the film an episodic feeling, but it works as a single, coherent narrative.
Speaking of familiarity, Ghost Stories is packed with recognisable names that make each tale all the more enjoyable. Huge stars like Martin Freeman make a welcome appearance, but the presence of Alex Lawther – known for the ‘Shut Up and Dance‘ Black Mirror episode, and Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World – stands out as some amazing up-and-coming talent that’s perfect for the paranoid, stuttering role he plays.
Ghost Stories focuses primarily on horror as a genre, but is packed with so much more: faith, spirituality, guilt, scepticism, and trauma all get twisted into the three stories, and the framing device around them. There’s a few threads which aren’t as explored as they could be; particular characters or moments sometimes only feel included to produce a quick scare.
However, it’s consistently fun. It definitely won’t convert anti-horror fanatics, but you can tell that every sequence is crafted with a prolonged love of the genre. It might be tropey at parts, and lacking the satisfying conclusion I anticipated, but when all is said and done, Ghost Stories is a brilliantly British horror film.
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Packing a whole bunch of horror into its brisk run-time, Ghost Stories is a hugely enjoyable film that's as entertaining as it is terrifying.
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