The Ghoul, 2016.
Directed by Gareth Tunley.
Starring Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe, Geoffrey McGivern, Rufus Jones, Paul Kaye, Niamh Cusack, and Dan Renton Skinner.
A cop goes undercover as a patient in order to investigate a psychotherapist involved in a strange murder case.
With Ben Wheatley (A Field in England/Kill List) credited as executive producer you can guarantee that The Ghoul, the directorial debut feature from Gareth Tunley, isn’t going to be an easy or straightforward viewing experience. Opening on a police investigation of a double murder in a suburban house in London, the story centres on Chris (Tom Meeten – Sightseers), a burned-out homicide detective no longer on the force but brought in by his friend Jim (Dan Renton Skinner – High-Rise) to help out as Jim cannot figure out how two people were shot three times each and still managed to walk towards the front door of the house.
Chris goes undercover and becomes a patient of psychotherapist Fisher (Niamh Cusack – Heartbeat) with the aim of obtaining information on fellow patient and chief suspect Michael Coulson (Rufus Jones – Paddington) but as Chris is examined by Fisher he begins to unravel as the boundaries between his cover story and his real life start to blur.
Essentially, The Ghoul has the plot of an episode of Tales of the Unexpected except for it doesn’t really have a pay-off which, when you get to the point in the film when you realise how it is going to end, makes watching it feel like a bit of a waste of time. Not that it is badly made as, like all good micro-budget films, the filmmakers make good use of location, space and facilities available, giving you the impression that you are watching the mental breakdown of a man who seems to have gotten far too deep into something that he cannot get out of and making the limited resources all part of the effect. However, being clever with what you have at your disposal does not necessarily mean you have a clever story and instead the film plays with the ‘what is real and what is fantasy’ idea that countless celluloid excursions into the human condition have examined over the decades but it doesn’t come out the other side with anything approaching a resolution. And yes, that probably is the point and being ambiguous with storytelling can often wield wonderful results as not everyone enjoys being spoon-fed a happy ending but when the film ends near enough on the same note that it began with and you look back on the previous 85 minutes you soon realise that very little actually happened and it all feels rather pointless.
Tom Meeten plays Chris as a strung-out and twitchy man in a very one-note performance that suits some scenes and feels incongruous in others, although the scenes where he is interacting with Geoffrey McGivern (Magicians) as Morland, a colleague of Fisher, are the highlight – mainly thanks to McGivern channelling his inner Simon Callow and obviously having fun with it – and evoke some of the atmosphere of British chillers from previous decades, something that Ben Wheatley no doubt had some influence over. The rest of the cast, however, are adequate without ever being memorable or outstanding in a way that overshadows Meeten’s consistently uncomfortable performance or the incomprehensible plot.
Included on the disc is In the Loop, a making-of documentary featuring interviews with all the key players including Gareth Tunley, Tom Meeten and Ben Wheatley, plus The Baron, a short film written by Tom Meeten and directed by Gareth Tunley, and a theatrical trailer so if you’re a collector or fan of this current wave of British genre filmmaking then there is enough material to be getting on with but, as a film on its own, The Ghoul has ambition and moments of potential but is let down massively by the fact that there isn’t really a story there and the whole thing has the feel of a showreel piece for something to come later on – hopefully it will be something more cohesive and rewarding.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★