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Ghost Stories (dir. Dyson. Nyman)

Image: Martin Freeman in Ghost Stories. [Source: IMDB]

 ★★★☆☆

Skeptic Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman) embarks on a nightmare fuelled quest to solve supernatural puzzles given to him by his idol. Who himself has turned into a believer, much to Goodman’s dismay. In his tumbling down a rabbit hole of terror, his beliefs and character fall into question.

Director: Jeremy Dyson. Andy Nyman. Starring: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther [15]

Much like Glengarry Glenn-Ross, Ghost Stories is a hit play turning its success into a feature film. But unlike Glenn-Ross it lacks the sharp persistence to have that format work for film, which Glenn-Ross largely does thanks to its setting and style. Ghost Stories, on the other hand, has a style and tone of its own and it doesn’t quite fit the film format, however, Dyson and Nyman do an excellent job of adapting the play to the screen.

What Ghost Stories does is break its story into sections, bookmarking them with title cards, as well as having some fourth wall breaking from our lead in the opening few minutes. What this does wrong is not only set up false expectations of a mockumentary style but also gives the film an episodic feel, extracting any cinematic value these stories had into short give and take sideshows. On there own the short horror stories do much to have you jumping out your seat and filled with the kind of dread that only the expectation of numerous cheap jump scares can provide. Sadly almost the entire movie uses this staple of general horror flicks but when it moves away from this plainly overused technique to get scares, it comes into genuine thrills and horrific moments but then again only a few moments stand out for such.

Which mirrors how the performances are also, everyone has been cast just right, sliding into roles they are fittingly useful for believability sake. The real shining performances comes from lead Andy Nyman who possess an almost genuine quality in his tumbling into suspected insanity or true contact with the supernatural. The other being Alex Lawther who expresses horrific fear of his traumatic experience which after seeing into truly exemplifies the PTSD that his character now has. There has clearly been care taken to focus on the characters, their lives, their story and how they were affected but there has equally been focused direction (from two people, that is quite a feat). Knowing full well how to manipulate the audience with shots that know when to remain tight and when to come wide, it’s all working to elevate the horror.

Where the film truly elevates itself from the general rabble, however, is in its climax. Not only is it by far the most intriguing and gripping section of the film but it also presents plenty of questions and discussions for people to debate as they leave to the tune of a very humorous credits song. It is rather confusing but that’s what is endearing about how this story finishes, there are plenty of wildly different readings to the film you might have had to begin with or even halfway through. Was the film an episodic challenge to the cynical social consciousness of Britain today, a hammer-horror thrill ride, perhaps a discussion on insanity, coma patients or even the supernatural world. Maybe it is all of the above but that is really up to you to decide and the film gives you room to do so.

Ghost Stories takes its play to the cinematic landscape and while it makes a conscious effort to incorporate the new medium, its tone and style do not adapt to the fullest potential. It leaves most of the film feeling like a cheap thrill ride in episodic adventures into the paranormal world. The characters are largely forgettable although very believable and genuine with performances that feel authentic and focused. Sometimes comedic, sometimes frightening and sometimes just tedious, Ghost Stories falls short in its execution but offers a great selection of sideshow style stories that recall the cheap scares of a haunted house at an amusement park.

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