”Things are not always as they seem.’
At first I was afraid. Then I was petrified. Then truly unsettled to my very core. I’ve stayed that way for the past 24 hours. That’s because Ghost Stories is a truly fantastic horror movie. In some ways it defies being defined into a sub-genre as it uses a whole spectrum of tropes to get results. It’s also the kind of film that you want to know as little about as possible before going to see to allow for maximum impact. So I’ll try to brief and scarce on the precise details.
Suffice to say that at times, whilst watching, it felt like someone had somehow accessed my own deepest darkest thoughts and fears and thrown them onto the screen to create a menagerie of the macabre. One that seemed like it had be completely under its grasp and very determined to make as much lingering impact as possible. Mission successful.
As the trailer demonstrated (ignore the next two paragraphs if you’ve not seen the trailer yet…) the film opens with a prologue of sorts from arch skeptic Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman – also one of the film’s co-writer/director team). We’re introduced to him as he’s in the act of disproving the supposed abilities of a celebrity psychic. It seems to give him some small semblance of calm to impose rational thought on the unexplainable and to condemn the implausible; in the process he appears to worsen the grief being experienced by a mother who lost her young child. It’s an act that could be defined as selfish, yet his determination is so apparent and deep-rooted that it’s more than that. He truly seems to think he is doing what is best, following in the steps of his idol, a famed paranormal investigator from the 1970s.
They meet and he’s presented with three cases that have long proven to be impossible to explain. Professor Goodman goes to meet the three men who each experienced their own inexplicable ‘haunting’. Each tale differs in its threat and style, but all three are united in their inability to be explained and the distress they cause.
It’s a tightly told anthology of stories with so much achieved in 98 minutes of screen time. This is in part thanks to the script that has the occasional comedic moment, but never to the extent that the horror aspect is undermined. There’s also the incredible camera work which truly unerves, knowing when to delay the reveal and when to unashamedly expose it. The role of dark is also crucial – one of mankind’s most primal fears is used to great effect. We’re powerless and vulnerable as we follow this terror-filled quest, but even the light cannot save us. All of those involved in front of the camera are flawless, serving as further proof (if it were truly needed) at how actors we may initially associate as comedic can provide some of the best drama performances. Perhaps this expectation actually works to the film’s benefit, lulling us into a degree of safety with the familiar before subverting our expectations even further. Alex Lawther as Simon Rifkind is a stand-out providing truly detranged and unhinged performance, further cementing his status as a one to watch.
But perhaps the truly greatest aspect is how simple it all is. All three stories take place without artifice – everyday situations or settings are invaded by the paranormal. Questions are raised and some answers are given, although they may not be the ones want to hear. No-one and nowhere is safe, really, when you think about it…
Ghost Stories is in UK cinemas now.