VOD film review: Ghost Stories
James R | On 02, Sep 2018
Director: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Cast: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse
Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman bring their hit London stage play Ghost Stories to the big screen – and the result is a theatrical triumph, combining creepy surprises and quiet emotion to chilling, entertaining effect.
Nyman stars as Philip Goodman, a professor and TV presenter who specialises in debunking the supernatural. An adamant believer in logic and reason, he loves nothing more than to unmask frauds and expose hoaxes. Like all the best ghostbusters that aren’t involved in films featuring Bill Murray or Kate McKinnon, Philip’s desire to prove the paranormal false is driven by his own deep-seated issues and guilt, all of which comes to a head when he is challenged by a childhood idol of his (a fellow rationalist) to investigate three cases that stumped him – and, he is told, will leave him no choice but to believe in something beyond the pale. The fact that his childhood has long been missing, once presumed dead, only adds to the ominous atmosphere.
The result is a familiar but effective framework for an anthology of miniature horrors – and not unlike TV’s Inside No. 9, this trio of short films is precisely configured to jolt, unnerve and intrigue in equal measure.
They’re performed with gusto by a convincing cast. Alex Lawther (breakout star of The Imitation Game and future household name) is unnervingly shaken up as Simon, spooked by a nighttime drive through a forest – and quivers disturbingly at home where his parents are eerily detached. Martin Freeman, meanwhile, brings macho ruthlessness to the part of Mike, a retired stock broker whose home is invaded by a poignant poltergeist; he’s brusque, over-confident but determinedly stoic, his mannerisms hiding unspoken tensions in a mind buried by trauma.
The standout, though, is security guard Tony, played by Paul Whitehouse with a weary realism that reminds you just how much of a national treasure the veteran of The Fast Show is. Tasked with patrolling a warehouse, the haunted house sequence is as conventional as the film gets, but it’s recounted by Tony in a creepily quiet pub – a scene washed in faded daylight that conjures an unsettling mood all of its own.
Each flashback carries a cumulative weight, from the thrill of a monstrous creature feature to a bedroom pregnant with portent, and the gathering darkness goes hand in hand with heightened emotions. Nyman’s protagonist is deliciously bitter enough to tie them all together, and his and Dyson’s pacing is carefully judged, driving up suspense to reach a conclusion that’s packed with pathos and wit.
With everything rooted in old-school practical effects, the imaginative production rips the scenery out from under your feet time and time again, creating something that’s enjoyably nostalgic but thrillingly innovative – and never once feels staged. A terrific treat in every sense of the word.