New Horror Releases: Ghost Stories (2018) - Reviewed

Erin reviews Ghost Stories

It's dark. We're leaving the last showing of the much anticipated British horror experience, Ghost Stories. Coats are zipped up and hands plunge into pockets as we exit the cinema to walk across an empty car-park. It feels as though we're still inside the mind of writer/ director Andy Nyman. The man standing to your left, features distorted by shadows as he lights a cigarette. The single remaining car waiting for us in the distance. My step quickens. I cast a furtive glance over my shoulder before climbing inside. Doors slam shut. Audible sighs of relief resound. The adrenaline is just beginning to taper. Then silence is broken. It is a unanimous uproar of laughter. The entire car journey is spent deciphering and gesticulating over the best horror offering to come out of the UK in a bloody long time.

I call this film an experience because it is a master-class in the art of macabre story telling. Ghost Stories, actually found its origins making grown men whimper behind coats as a massively popular West End stage production, and went on to open its doors to 350,000 patrons in theaters across the UK in 2011. Long standing writing comrades, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson both seem to revel in creating work that resides in the unsettling limbo between horror and comedy. Everything they have produced in the last ten years sits firmly on a knife edge, sometimes leaning towards the anxiety inducing mind games of Derren Brown's Infamous, a show that was co-written by Andy, and the murky depths of Jeremy's brain child, The League of Gentleman, a sometimes disturbingly unpalatable black comedy set in the North of England.

Our tale begins when Professor Philip Goodman, played by Andy Nyman, receives an envelope pertaining to three unsolved cases of the supernatural kind. As he talks to the camera behind a cluttered desk in a dimly lit office we are made aware that the good professor has dedicated his life's work to disproving the after life and unexplained spiritual events. And now here he sits listening to an ominous tape recording, asking him to, “be careful what you believe in.”

The narrative structure follows a visit to each of the cases. An interview, and a re-telling of the events that may or may not have happened. The simplicity of the initial plot only serves to leave room for the level of depth that develops and unfolds, that is poured into every scene, every line and every shot of this film. This is character acting at its finest. The skeleton cast of about five well known British actors, give their all in these incredibly claustrophobic monologue scenes. Paul Whitehouse and his portrayal of a world weary security guard and Martin Freeman playing well, Martin Freeman. But even his natural affable charm seems untrustworthy and alluding to something much darker in these isolating moorland wide shots and long corridor slow panning segments. Not forgetting in all of this of course, the wonderfully twitchy performance from the young Alex Lawther, whose body language suggests he is seconds away from either a heart attack or murder.

There is an underlying synergy flowing throughout this production. When all the pieces of this well crafted design are edited together, everything becomes mentally jarring and equally unsettling. The clever sub-text which is born from good writing, is almost revelling in this exploration of human psychosis, pulling back the layers of our inner world to reveal that there is in-fact a primal under-current lying just below the surface. Nyman utilizes his tools perfectly. Dead silence broken by heavy breathing or a knock at the door. Jump scares that are well earned through uncomfortable sustained tension. It was as though someone was pulling back a rubber band as far as they could, whilst aiming it directly at the audience. Leaving us with this agonising wait before finally, until we could bear it no longer, it was released. And it's wonderfully excruciating. It's this unflinching confrontation with fear that feeds the nervous tension that has us squirming in our seats.

What tells me this is an excellent horror film? When we are left with the realisation that concludes the fate of the Professor I was pleasantly surprised. As I dismounted the carriage after the final stop on this psychological roller-coaster I was left with so much more to think about. The foreshadowing came into full view before my eyes, those little Easter eggs that are planted throughout will feed much after-thought once the closing credits roll. The imagery from certain scenes will haunt me to my grave. It is this journey through the looking glass which invites morbid captivation from any audience. Which will embed, Ghost Stories, into the minds of many sleep deprived horror loving voyeurs. 

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-Erin Ring