Film: Some dead ends

Written By: Patrick Mulcahy
Published: April 9, 2018 Last modified: April 9, 2018

Ghost Stories,

Director: Andy Nyman, Jeremy Dyson

 

A British horror film without a woman in peril in sight! But then Ghost Storiesis not a proper horror film, rather a bunch of dead ends masquerading as a portmanteau film. The mysterious cases given to TV debunker Dr Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) turn out not to be stories rather sightings. Three men of various ages and socio economic backgrounds get spooked, but there is no obvious connective tissue between each episode. Then when Dr Goodman presents his findings, the film presents the biggest of all horror clichés, which is thoroughly groan-worthy.

As an eighty-minute stage production which debuted in 2010, Ghost Stories terrified audiences, with the stories related in pitch black spaces. In the cinema, the audience is all too familiar with the repertoire of scare tactics – loud noises, figures suddenly appearing in the frame and advancing at preternatural speed. The most effective emotion that a horror film can generate isn’t the scare but dread – the anticipation of what we don’t want to see.

Ghost Storiesdoes not muster any dread. It is not particularly dreadful. But it is dreadfully pedestrian. How many times have we seen the spooky presence in a warehouse, the strange being hit by a car, and a frightening spectral baby? I was expecting something more subtle.

Horror films are noted for their subtext, for representing the return of the repressed. In Professor Goodman’s case this takes the form of a guilty memory from childhood, a time when something bad happened and he did nothing. This becomes the film’s only story, but exists independently of the three cases that he investigates.

The performances vary. Paul Whitehouse plays a night watchman as a comedy caricature, the sort who lights up in front of a no smoking sign in a pub that strangely has no publican or, indeed, any other customers. Martin Freeman plays a gruff moneyed businessman with a delight in hunting. Best of all, Alex Lawther excels as a young man who takes his father’s car without asking and has an unfortunate encounter on the way home. His delivery of the line, ‘bloody O2’ got the biggest laugh. The tone veers more towards the darkly comic rather than the outright scary.

A major theme of the film is anti-Semitism, with Dr Goodman describing his father’s religion as the problem; we see Goodman Senior violently disapprove of Philip’s sister’s choice of boyfriend. This too is one more detail that gets dropped in a film that delivers far less than it promises. It is one of the few movies where you could make changes to the middle without affecting the ending. That’s not a recommendation.

About Patrick Mulcahy

Patrick Mulcahy is a film critic for Tribune and Chartist, to which he has contributed for over twenty years.