Monday, July 23, 2018

Movie Review: Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories ** / *****
Directed by: Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman.
Written by: Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman.
Starring: Andy Nyman (Professor Goodman), Martin Freeman (Mike Priddle), Paul Whitehouse (Tony Matthews), Alex Lawther (Simon Rifkind), Paul Warren (Woolly), Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Father Emery), Nicholas Burns (Mark van Rhys), Joe Osborne (Mr. Rifkind), Maria Major (Mrs. Rifkind), Leonard Byrne (Charles Cameron), Macie Allen (Tilly), Ryan Oliva (Hellion), Samuel Bottomley (Young Goodman), Jake Davies (Desi Callahan / Kojak).
Ghost Stories is an old fashioned horror anthology that tells three stories, and a framing device, that all interlock in surprising ways. Normally, this kind of film is precisely the type of horror I like – horror based on atmosphere more than jump scares and blood, films where darkness in the most frightening thing out there. And yet, for the most part Ghost Stories left me cold – the film is never really scary or surprising, and builds to a climax that is supposed to be shocking, but really isn’t. It’s well-made for the most part, but there’s not a lot going on in the film to recommend it.
The films opens with Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman) debunking another television psychic on his own TV show – psychic cheats. Goodman takes much pleasure at debunking these scam artists – so much so that he doesn’t seem to consider what he may be doing to others (the woman in the audience who thought she was talking to her son may be being lied to – but it’s a lie that makes her happy, while Goodman’s “truth” makes her miserable. In short, Goodman is the type of arrogant asshole horror movies delight in providing comeuppance to – which of course the movie will. The framing device for the three stories not involving Goodman is that the TV debunker Goodman admired when he was a kid – and who mysteriously disappeared decades ago – contacts him out of the blue. The now old, dying man provides him three cases that he was never able to explain – and wants Goodman to investigate and find the truth. Goodman obliges.
The three stories Ghost Stories then go on to tell are creepy, but not much more. The first is about a night watchman at what used to be a mental institute for women, but now seems like an abandoned building. Predictably, the lights fail, he sees things, his flashlight doesn’t always work etc. – and he has an experience he cannot explain. The second story is about a teenage boy, driving down a lonely stretch of road on a dark night, who hits something – which of course isn’t the end of his night. The third story involves a investment banker (Martin Freeman), with a pregnant wife, who experiences things he cannot explain.
All three stories within the movie have an interesting setup – but then don’t really do much with them. The film knows that none of these stories are overly original, and if you do that, you had better perfectly execute them – they don’t. All end anti-climatically, and while I think this may well be the point – and also, has its roots in the fact that this started as a play (and you can only do so much on stage) – that doesn’t make them any more satisfying. The film then returns to its framing device story to try and shock you once again – but it feels like a cheap ploy more than anything else. The ending isn’t as clever as it thinks it is.
Overall, I was left kind of bored by Ghost Stories. The movie doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything new – and even what it does do, it only does passably well. Often times with horror anthologies, there is one standout segment that make the rest worthwhile. I think here, because they wanted them all to be interconnected, it limited what the filmmaking could do – so we basically get the same thing once, twice, three, four times in a row. It makes the film more cohesive than many anthologies – but also less interesting.

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