GHOST STORIES was a “Secret Screening” at BUFF and I was nothing less than impressed. As a horror fan, I have learned to overlook hackneyed tropes but I did not have to try too hard for GHOST STORIES. In the film adaptation of Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s stage play, GHOST STORIES is a compelling British anthology that examines the use of the paranormal in the face of guilt and shame.
Professor Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) spends his life trying to debunk the paranormal. He comes off as arrogant as he convinces himself that he is helping those who believe by making them face their reality, regardless if they want his “help” or not. As Philip preaches, “the brain sees what it wants to see”, his convictions are challenged when a fellow skeptic and hero of Philip, Charles Cameron, reaches out to him with three unsolved cases: Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse), a night watchman who faces a poltergeist during his graveyard shift; Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther), a hysterical kid trying to make sense of a demon he saw on a night drive; and Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman), a father-to-be whose first meeting with his daughter is unexpected.
Though Martin Freeman does not disappoint, Alex Lawther and Paul Whitehouse stole the show. Whitehouse’s Tony Matthews played in my favorite case. Prickly yet humorous he keeps us on our toes while listening to his patchy radio in the watchmen’s den overlooking a forbidding dark room. Through a deafeningly tense stretched out scene we follow him back and forth from his den to a strangely malfunctioning breaker, when his curiosity leads him down a sinister corridor. Ever since “Black Mirror” and “The End of the F**king World”, I have been a huge fan of Lawther’s ability to metamorphose into antisocial maniacal characters and the endlessly perspiring Simon Rifkind might be the most captivating. Freeman plays – well, Freeman: witty with a touch of sadness (the British persona). His Mike Priddle reads as wealthy and highbrow and turns into the Ghost of Christmas Past as he is cognizant of Goodman’s repressed childhood memories.
With the help of Priddle, Goodman meets his own poltergeist turning him into the final story. He draws from the three cases pieces of himself that he must learn to face. GHOST STORIES concludes with a scene that pulls symbols from each case cleanly tying the story together. I was so engrossed in each case, that I did not think to connect them and so I wasn’t even mad when I saw how the film ended.
An atmospherically captivating movie, GHOST STORIES is not to be missed. With an evil presence always lurking, GHOST STORIES did not heavily depend on jump scares but made you welcome them when they came to release the incessant built up tension. The camera used varied scopes from staggering close-ups to panoramic fields you almost feel dizzy with perturbation. Though some cases are more chilling than the others, each one allows you to suspend your disbelief as you join Goodman in his search for his truth in why he devoted his life to debunking the paranormal.