Director: Gareth Tunley
Cast: Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe, Rufus Jones
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Nobody does bleak quite like Britain. Nobody does horror quite like us, either. Some of the best in the genre are the ones that feel unmistakably British, taking our penchant for kitchen sink realism and fusing it with a suitably sad strain of shocks or spooks. Films such as Prevenge and High-Rise (Ben Wheatley exec-produces this) feel like products of only one country in the world – a country that’s currently in the process of questioning what exactly it is. It’s all too apt, then, that they should be joined this week by The Ghoul, a story of depression, delusion and cyclical eeriness.
Tom Meeten stars as Chris, a police officer who is bamboozled by the apparent shooting of two victims who kept walking long after the bullets entered their bodies. His only lead is Coulson (Jones), a man who seems to have a thing for crime scenes – a ghoul. Apparently treated by a mysterious psychiatrist, Helen (Niamh Cusack), Chris decides to go undercover, posing as a depressive to get access to her files and find out more. He does nothing, he tells her. But he sometimes daydreams that he’s a detective and follows people through London. Or is the other way around?
Director Gareth Tunley’s script slowly, subtly begins to blur the lines between his cover story and his actual story. Soon, Chris is so far under that his cover becomes his routine and the other identity pops up in fragmented bursts. Is his friend, Kathleen (Alice Lowe), a psychological profiler giving him tips on how to feign depression? Or is she an old university mate for whom he still has feelings, despite her now going out with his mate, Jim? The fact that he nicknames his depression “Ghoul” only adds to the confusion.
“People who suffer from depression often think they’ve always felt this way,” says Helen. “Like they’re trapped in a circle.”
And that’s the sensation that Tunley evokes brilliantly with his hazy camera, gradually leading us through a maze of mental fog. He harnesses the grim, low-budget aesthetic to foster that sense of depression, quietly looping his paths until they converge on one key figure: Morland (Geoffrey McGivern), the sinister mentor of Helen, who steps in to help Chris, after she falls ill. Their conversions about Möbius strips and the importance of perception sense Chris, and us, perpetually chasing our own tails. The city’s alleys become fields become lakes become woods become dimly lit parties (watch out for a scene-stealing Paul Kaye), all somehow anchored by Chris’ cramped bedsit.
It’s a journey that could become dull or frustrating, but the intensely downbeat Meeten makes for an excellent subject to study, supported by a sympathetic turn by Lowe and a wonderfully ambiguous performance by McGivern. As Chris drives into London on the M1, Tunley’s carefully sustained atmosphere seeps in, taking us round, like a wheel within a wheel, on the drab dual carriageway of your mind. Imagine what trip Tunley could take us on with a bigger budget. This, like Wheatley’s Kill List all those years ago, marks him out as a filmmaker to watch.