“Ghost Stories” (2017)
Running Time: 98 minutes
Written & directed by: Andy Nyman & Jeremy Dyson
Featuring: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Alex Lawther, Paul Whitehouse
Mike Priddle:“It’s funny, isn’t it? How it’s always the last key that unlocks everything.”
The new film “Ghost Stories” (2017) released this week in New Zealand cinemas is the most unusual of genre movies, one that incorporates a variety of narrative tools to dislodge an audience from their own expectations as well as keeping them wrong-footed through a plot that is not only convoluted but draws the viewer in as a willing participant without them even realising it. This movie is based on a long running as well as well toured play written by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson that itself has been staged in a most original way, that keeps its secrets as the actual plot is kept under wraps by audiences as well as critics that have seen the play – here the movie follows a similar course, although the narrative is broadened to take into account what is possible within the very nature of cinema. In my opinion the filmmakers have created a very good adaptation as well as a film that is enticing as well as a very good genre movie that should not only keep audiences guessing but at times possibly make viewers curious as to what they have let themselves in for. There is nothing better in this day and age than a movie not only retaining its secrets for unaware audiences but to actually offer some sort of surprise as everything seem to have been done before.
The play itself is notable for running only 80 minutes (with no interval) and for its publicised warnings advising against anyone under the age of 15 attending. The marketing of the show outside the theatre is unusual in that there are no production photographs, just stills and video monitors showing the shocked reactions of audience members. An announcement at the end of the play asks the audience to “keep the secrets of Ghost Stories” so that new audiences do not have the experience spoiled with any prior information about the play.
“Ghost Stories” has been written as well as directed by the authors of the stage play, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson who have a wealth of experience in writing for different mediums so their expert adaption is evident here as this is a tightly woven script that takes advantage of three different plot threads that are the backbone of the main narrative which, while not offering a completely satisfying conclusion it does fit within the pulp style and genre conventions at play that while this does not defy them it will definitely stick with an audience as well as make them think long and hard about what they have just been a part of. The script is top notch so I will concentrate on the direction of “Ghost Stories” as this is where it differs from the stage play as well as being where there are some definite flourishes which are welcome and surprising, considering this is the first film that Nyman and Dyson have directed. They have both done an outstanding job, although neither are strangers to the genre in other parts of their careers. What is great about this film is its dual position as both a narrative horror movie and an anthology movie that has a common thread throughout but has a conclusion that revolves round the main character to a point that explains the stories that have gone throughout. I love the use of addressing the audience directly while possibly having an unreliable narrator and then switching points of view sometimes within the same scene, which keeps the movie zipping along at a great pace, something others could learn from.
“Ghost Stories” revolves around Phillip Goodman who is a lonely and single man; he is also a well-known professor and television presenter whose show is devoted to debunking fraudulent psychics , which he regards as his life’s work in order to stop people’s lives being ruined by superstition. He receives an invitation to visit a famed 1970s paranormal investigstor, Charles Cameron, who inspired him as a boy, but who has been missing for decades and is now living in a caravan, sick and impoverished. The old man asks him to investigate three incidents of supposedly real supernatural ghost sightings. From here the plot thickens, it becomes a story that is complex, made so by the separate threads but ultimately does come together to form an entire story from which there is surprise but little recovery for the main character or the audience.
While the marketing as well as the trailers push Martin Freeman as the main star, which on fame and success, he is, the main actor is Andy Nyman as Phillip Goodman who is as fantastic as one would expect. Nyman who also co-wrote and directed “Ghost Stories” plays the part like he was born to it. Nyman plays the part as a man, who is living in the past unable to move forward with his life, he is equally obsessed, repressed, in denial and at a point where nothing has any real meaning in his life. What I enjoyed about Nyman’s performance was that it was realistic as well as bring three dimensional in a world that seems at times frankly, unreal to such a point that he at times must be curious as to what is happening to him, this was a real joy to view, a performance with edge, poignancy and pathos. The rest of the film is rounded out with some great comedic as well as dramatic actors, all really inhabiting their roles especially Paul Whitehouse and Martin Freeman who are excellent in their time onscreen.
The beauty of “Ghost Stories” is that it works on a number of levels, it is a genre movie, a family drama, a mystery and even a melodrama that plays out all the while sucking the audience into its own narrative, with a mystery at the centre that is more meta physical than anything else. There are many aspects to really enjoy with the film, the embracing of horror tropes, the old fashioned, at times directing style that offer real jump scares as well as more nuanced aspects that are extremely creepy at times as well as the thread of loss that runs along side all the genre aspects make this a movie very much worth seeking out and enjoying.
“Ghost Stories” while being original is still of the horror genre, there is no doubt that the past three to have five years has been a boon for lovers of the horror genre not only in the US, but all over the world, including the UK. In fact not only is this increase in great horror movies a worldwide movement there is also a variety of ways to enjoy them, at the cinemas, online on DVD and Blu-ray, so when does appear at the cinemas there is usually a reason and that is either down to being part of a franchise or of very high quality, in this case it’s the latter. There is nothing better than making the trip to a cinema, sitting down and watching a horror movie with people in the dark, and being taken on a ride, which is the case with “Ghost Stories”, go and see now, you will not be disappointed.