Sunday, 13 December 2020

Movie Review: Ghost Stories (2017)

A psychological horror thriller, Ghost Stories offers thoughtful ideas and plenty of good frights but is also undermined by a fragmented structure.

In England, Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman) has dedicated his life to debunking fake psychics. Famous paranormal investigator Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrne), now an eccentric recluse in ailing health, asks Phillip to investigate three confounding cases involving supernatural activity.

The first involves lonely nightwatchman Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse) having an encounter with a restless spirit at an abandoned facility previously used to incarcerate troubled women. The second features Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther), a young man suffering through a fraught relationship with his parents, who encounters demonic creatures on a lonely road through the forest. The third case is Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman), a wealthy businessman haunted by a poltergeist while his wife is at the hospital giving birth.

As he interviews those involved Phillip believes he has rational explanations, but he is soon confronted by disturbing visions suggesting more is going on than he imagined.

The big-screen co-directorial /co-writing debut for Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, Ghost Stories is based on their stage play but gets caught in a dilemma between an anthology structure and a thrust towards a revelatory ending. Both objectives are worthwhile and delivered with decent satisfaction, but they also detract from each other. 

In each of the three sub-chapters (but particularly the first nightwatchman story) an inordinate amount of time is invested in jump scares, power cuts and things that go bump in the dark within a large old and deserted building. The setting is ideal but also familiar, as is the empty road through a haunted forest in the middle segment. Eventually Dyson and Nyman gather up all the threads and throw a good curve in the elucidative climax, but also retrospectively erode the impact and value of the repetitive eerie moments.

In terms of creepy moods, spine-tingling chills and unbearable tension, Ghost Stories delivers. In the classic tradition of well-constructed horror, the scares land with maximum precision and minimal gore, the victims always alone, often at night, and made to suffer through courage-sapping build-ups.

Themes of extreme loneliness, psychological scars, and dissatisfaction with life's trajectory, all related to men, weave through the interviews conducted by Dr. Goodman as he tries to piece together logical explanations for the incidents thrust at him by Cameron. But with an unsettling time stamp of 3:45, a set of seemingly random sequential numbers, a nondescript window and a hooded figure all mysteriously appearing and reappearing at disconcerting intervals, this journey carries a funereal trap.



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