Movie Review: Ghost Stories

A horror anthology is more complex than it seems a first glance

Ghost Stories
Directed by Andy Nyman, Jeremy Dyson
With Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, Martin Freeman

Some cleverness at the end plus a surprisingly good cast puts the British entry Ghost Stories a bit ahead of the recent horror flicks.

The basic premise as suggested by the title is an anthology of ghost stories, which is usually a pretty weak genre. A host of a skeptical TV show is handed folders with three cases that can't be disproven. These become the core of the film, and they are so-so. The epilogue, though, throws a giant wrench into the plot and puts the mediocre ghost tales into a new context.

Andy Nyman, who stars in the film, also co-wrote and co-directed with Jeremy Dyson. The film is based on a play he co-wrote, which ran for 1,000 performances from 2010 to '15.

Nyman is also a magician and mentalist. On screen he plays Professor Phillip Goodman, a man who after being raised in a strict Jewish family has spent his life trying to free people from superstition. He is seen exposing a psychic healer who uses a radio headpiece to get inside information from his staff backstage, for example, so he can seem the read minds.

The films shifts tones once Goodman starts looking into the case files he gets under mysterious circumstances. He seems sincere in his quest as he tracks down the people from the cases and listens, trying not to seem so skeptical that he scares his sources off.

Of the three tales, the first is the scariest, relying on an abandoned building overseen by a night watchman. The watchman is played by Paul Whitehouse, known for the BBC sketch comedy series The Fast Show and similar shows. He also recently had a small role in The Death of Stalin. His role is pretty straight this time, and he gives a low-key but efective performance.

The second is more of an oddity, taking place on an isolated road. As this tale unfolds, though, more and more strange things start to happen and disjointed elements begin to pop up on screen. The main figure in this segment is Alex Lawther, who played young Alan Turing in the film The Imitation Game.

This segment is bit disappointing compared to the first one, but still has some atmosphere.

The third tale stars Martin Freeman, who has been in films ranging from Shaun of the Dead to Black Panther. He plays a successful investor known for his economic foresight, but with a harrowing personal tale to tell.

The films takes off once these tales are over and Professor Goodman returns to the source of the files. The odd bits that appeared throughout the tales all fall into place rather unexpectedly.

Overall, the film is more about psychological issues and creating a dark and inescapable mood than about delivering the maximum number of scares.

As writer, director and star, Andy Nyman knows enough of the material to give himself a backseat at the right times. His character is more of an observer. He lets the rest of the cast, Martin Freeman in particular, take the spotlight.

As a trained magician, he knows that illusions work by misdirecting the attention of the audience. He does that in the film as well, as the final act goes off in a completely unexpected direction that the audience did not see coming.

Ghost Stories is not a must see film like last year's Get Out. But it does stand a bit above the terrible recent horror offerings by having an original and coherent story, and some solid acting from an experienced and talented cast.

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