Ghost Stories doesn't raise the bar in horror films but feels strangely original. And then there's that twist ending.
Adapted from a hugely successful West End stage play of the same name, Ghost Stories will appeal to old-school horror fans where the journey has more importance than the destination. For this, co-director Jeremy Dyson (who shares scripting and directing duties with lead actor Andy Nyman) uses every opportunity to rattle our nerves but applies restrain to great effect. Jump scares are also limited in favour of an icy atmosphere that harkens back to classic British horror films. In keeping with that tradition, viewers can expect this horror film to have all manner of spooky threats from all corners of the screen. While this can be perceived as a limitation to the original stage production, the story remains the same and the main reason why this is a well assembled chiller.
Because of the plurality in the title, the film appears to be an anthology of short stories. Or does it? There is a common thread running through each of the stories and that is co-director Nyman as Professor Phillip Goodman - a cynic devoted to exposing urban superstition and fraudulent psychics. The opening credits show why Goodman has a chip on the shoulder for superstition, but having climbed the ladder and become a television presenter, the chip on the other shoulder tells us that he is also hungry for fame. Opportunity arrives in the form of Charles Cameron, a renowned paranormal investigator Goodman has idolised since he was a child. The sick and dying Cameron asks Goodman to investigate three cases of unexplainable paranormal incidents. Little does Goodman know, or is prepared for what lies ahead. And neither are we.
Each of the three stories are barely twenty minutes long but ensures a good fright at the end. If that isn't enough, a fourth story emerges, which according to a very special character is "the last key that unlocks everything". But we want even more, right? Patience will be rewarded, but not before realising that even as the title is obvious, the black humour is equally evident. "The brain sees what it wants to see", says that same character, setting into motion a cruel joke that not only serves as a devilish twist ending but also ribbon-wraps the entire package.
While true horror fans may think this film is more bizarre than it is scary (which could be a let-down for some viewers when each story ends), the real meat of the film is in the build-up and not so much in the actual confrontation with the paranormal. This is evident in the old-fashioned campfire approach to telling a ghost story, and with almost the same potency from the works of Stanley Kubrick to Stephen King. Technically, this also means the directors were trying their hands at all possible ways to scare the audience. That doesn't say much about raising the bar as a horror film but to its merit, delivery from key roles played by Martin Freeman and Alex Lawther nails it as tight as a tomb. Lawther, in the second story, is as creepy as a ventriloquist's dummy, while Freeman's character brings an ethereal crowning to the entire film. Ultimately, Ghost Stories is assembled from a deep love for the genre. While that can include certain familiarities, the film is also smart and sophisticated. Which when stacked up against modern day horror films, feels strangely original yet playfully subversive.
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