Jeremy Dyson (formerly of TV’s The League of Gentlemen) and Andy Nyman make their co-writing and co-directing feature debuts with this unnerving psychodramatic character study cum horror movie.
Ghost Stories offers a handful of genuine jolts, an unnerving sense that your eyes are deceiving you and a peculiarly English mood of wintry, existentialist despair. Drawn from their long-running stage show, this one tips its hat to the genre’s tricks and tropes, but manages a personality all its own, with a wonderfully old school message about the arrogance and foolishness of denying the existence of the things we don’t (and can’t) understand.
Lonely, middle-aged academic Philip Goodman (Nyman) hosts a TV show where he unmasks fake mediums and debunks the supernatural. He’s summoned to the caravan home of a long-missing paranormal investigator and then sent on a mission to investigate three supposed incidents of ghost sightings.
The first seems almost straightforward with night watchman Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse) haunted by the spirit of a little girl in an abandoned asylum, and then we meet troubled teenager Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther). He’s an occult-obsessed lad who, late at night in the woods, hits something inexplicable with his car, and by this point Dyson and Nyman are creepily (and wittily) warning us that something here is very wrong.
No less than Martin Freeman stars in the third story as Mike Priddle, a rich financier plagued by a poltergeist after the birth of his child. This section includes the most terrifying moment in the whole film and, perhaps, the apparent breakdown of the narrative itself. At any rate, what happens hereafter can’t properly be explained, just like the best ghost stories. Although there are glimmers of, say, John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, they don’t detract from the memorable atmosphere of extreme unease.
Ghost Stories is in cinemas now