Ghost Stories Film Review
By: Joseph Perry (@JosephWPerryJWP)
Fans of classic British horror movie anthologies such as Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), and The Vault of Horror (1973), or those who just love good old-fashioned chilling tales of the supernatural should find plenty to love about the new omnibus effort Ghost Stories. Providing old-school eeriness and mounting terror, this film is one of the best scare-fare efforts of the year so far.
The duo of Jeremy Nyson and Andy Nyman co-wrote and co-directed the motion picture, based on their successful and highly acclaimed stage version. The horror here is harrowing and uncanny, as the filmmakers go for getting under the skin of viewers rather than relying on either gore or an abundance of jump scares.
The framing story concerns Professor Phillip Goodman (Nyman in a crackerjack performance), a skeptic and debunker of psychics. Tasked by his aged mentor to come up with logical explanations for three cases that the older men could never disprove, Goodman goes about interviewing three people who experienced life-changing supernatural events.
Beginning with security employee Tony Matthews’ (Paul Whitehouse) terrifying tale of an encounter on his rounds one night, Goodman sees that the people he is interviewing are deeply scarred by their sinister experiences. Whitehouse is terrific as a hard-working everyman who has been made fragile by an inexplicable incident.
Next up is the story of Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther in a fun, all-in performance), a young man who is in trouble with his parents because of his constant lying. Driving home one night in the family car and being lectured by his father, Simon hits something in the road — and that thing is none too happy about it. Lawther is wonderful in his multilayered performance.
Businessman Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman in a gripping turn) is the subject of the third story. His house is visited by a poltergeist while his wife is giving birth at the local hospital.
How viewers feel about Ghost Stories will largely depend on what happens after Goodman hears all three stories from their subjects. The ending can certainly be a divisive one, but to give any details as to why would mean venturing into spoiler territory. It’s simply a journey that potential viewers must take and then decide for themselves about whether or not it works.
Ghost Stories is beautifully shot by Ole Bratt Birkeland, and Haim Frank Ilfman’s score adds extra dimensions of unearthliness. Nyson and Nyman ratchet up the suspense well in each segment, and keep an air of dread going throughout, even when some comic moments ensue.
Another strong point of the film is the marvelous acting on display. The four main leads are splendid, with most of them having the opportunity to show exciting “before and after” performances.
Ghost Stories hearkens back to classic ghost-story telling, whether whispered around campfires, told in bedrooms late at night, or shown on the screen, but it never feels quaint or outdated. It’s a breath of refreshing air in the current fright-fare cinematic world, as well as one that blows a cold, musky draft down the back of viewers’ necks.
Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast (whenitwascool.com/up-hill-both-ways-podcast/) and Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast (decadesofhorror.com/category/classicera/).
He also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), Diabolique Magazine (diaboliquemagazine.com), Scream Magazine (screamhorrormag.com), and several other print and online film critique and pop culture magazines.
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