Title: Ghost Stories
Rating: Not Rated
Director: Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman
Starring: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse
Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes
What It Is: Three frightening case files compel a disbelieving professor to reconsider his skepticism of the supernatural.
What We Think: Our protagonist, Phil Goodman, starts the story with the matching level of skepticism as the audience, repeating the phrase “the brain only sees what it wants to see”, but the succession of the ‘meta-narrative’ sees him become more and more deranged – seeing horror in familiarities, such as cars, landscapes, and trees. It is apparent from the get-go that Goodman is on some sort of arc that will either wreck him or redeem him, and with this in mind, the film feels a lot tenser than it would do if the audience weren’t invested in his character.
The anthology configuration takes the audience through three separate stories, each one as bizarre as the other: the night shift worker who gets visited by a demonic doll-like figure as he works a shift overnight in a women’s asylum; a troubled adolescent who sees monstrous creatures in an menacing forest; and a deeply disturbed well-to-do man who is haunted by poltergeists. All of these stories, peculiar as they may be, provide adequate jump-scares and well-sustained tension – but weaving through the narratives, and indeed, what connects the stories, is the sense of panic and self-loathing felt by the characters.
As well as simple jump-scares, Ghost Stories also touches upon very serious and present-day issues. Mental illness, loneliness, guilt, repression – all of these themes are proved in their own ways, using the different characters and narrative arcs. Pathos is well utilized: each character tugs on our heartstrings in their own way, but not in a way that feels deceitful or exaggerated. Despite the fact that Ghost Stories is a horror, it does not merely rely on cheap jump-scares or thrills to generate all of its tension – a quality which differentiates it from its competitors.
Our Grade: B+, This is delectably unexpected and gravely stimulating in the bleakest, most under-the-skin manner. I think, for some, the narrative’s incessant tailspin will become a bit bewildering – but those like me who thrive on addressing existential cynicism head-on will be left psychologically pummelled and entertained. Dazed, only to wonder whether it’s death we fear or life itself and all its imperfectly replaying memories. Scares aside, Ghost Stories takes in religion, spirituality and psychological anguish, sometimes sadistically. The film feels like an ode to not the only horror as a genre, but to real human horror, trauma, and the ruinous damage inflicted by us all. What we’re left with is sadness.