Ghost Stories, 2017.
Directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman.
Starring Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, and Alex Lawther.
Arch sceptic Professor Phillip Goodman embarks upon a terror-filled quest when he stumbles across a long-lost file containing details of three cases of inexplicable ‘hauntings’.
I have a real soft spot for anthology horror movies. I find the stripped back, short-form stories they tell incredibly intriguing, not only because their length requires them trim all fat from their bones, but also because their lack of context leaves so many interesting and spooky loose ends that you can’t help but ask questions, keeping up the mystery long after the credits roll. It stands to reason then that I had high hopes for Ghost Stories, an anthology horror with an equally mysterious thread running through each tale of ghostly terror. And, for the eighty minutes or so, I wasn’t disappointed. The last ten, however…
Ghost Stories follows Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman), a paranormal sceptic and part-time arrogant prick, as he investigates three apparently unexplainable cases. Each case spawns a new story, and each story is memorable. The characters that tell these stories are likewise captivating, having distinct, realistic personalities that really shine through the darkness fuelled plot. Though each story marches to roughly the same drum, at least insofar as structure is concerned, the aesthetic flavour of each set piece and personality of each character keep them interesting, even when it becomes very apparent what is about to happen.
The scares, though mostly jump-scares, are constructed with far more care than you’d expect for what is essentially a series of paranormal startle-fests. One scene in particular, which shows Martin Freeman’s character Mike Priddle approach a poltergeist as it toys with a blanket, highlights this care well. The camera focusses on Priddle, yet keeps the swirling blanket in shot, though well out of focus. This is a simple technique, and far from ground-breaking, but it really shows that the directors knew that in horror less is often more.
Another highlight comes about halfway through the film, and occurs when Goodman visits the house of Simon Riftkin (the second case). The house is incredibly eerie, as are its occupants. Simon’s parents are never seen to move, nor do they ever speak, and there seems to be one more person in the house than Simon claims there to be. Most effective perhaps is the shadow that swallows the hall outside Simon’s room. Goodman dare not step out into it, and with good reason; it represents the unknown, the uncanny, and the dangers that lie in the swirling miasma of darkness beyond the limits of human knowledge… or maybe the dark is just creepy.
Considering the effectiveness of the first eighty minutes of Ghost Stories and the apparent talent the directors have for crafting a solid piece of horror fiction, it pains me to say that most of their hard work goes to waste in the movie’s closing act.
There’s a type of ending that is universally panned for being the worst possible ending anyone can think of for literally any piece of fiction. I shan’t tell you what that ending is, but I assume a lot of you can work it out. It’s a type of ending that undercuts the significance of every action that preceded it, and provides so much closure to the story that the audience is left with nothing whatsoever to talk about (other than the dreadfulness of the ending itself) and no reason to re-watch the film. Yet despite this, Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman decided that they would end their film in exactly that way – albeit with a few added bells and whistles to convince you that they had actually done something interesting.
What’s worse is: I should have seen it coming. In fact, I did see it coming, but convinced myself that there was no way TWO directors would make the same fatal error. But they did, and all notion of mystery, intrigue, and rewatchability simply evaporated.
Ghost Stories is still an enjoyable watch first time around, and I can’t pretend like I wasn’t having a good time up to the point where the rug was pulled from under my feet. But the ending left such a sour taste in my mouth that I have no desire to ever watch it again, as there is nothing more I can gain from it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
James Turner is a writer and musician based in Sheffield. You can follow him on Twitter @JTAuthor