By embracing old-fashioned creepiness and witty plotting, Ghost Stories distinguishes itself from the typical Blumhouse fare.
By Harrison Abbott 16 April, 2018
Harrison looks at the play adapted horror anthology (of sorts), Ghost Stories.
Today I'm going to be reviewing 'Ghost Stories' which is written and directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson and they're the people who actually wrote and created and directed the stage play on which this is based.
It's kind of a horror anthology although I don't think that description is entirely accurate because the stories have a bit more of a connective tissue than anthology might suggest, but the basic gist is that this is about a guy called Professor Goodman who is a celebrity debunker of the paranormal. He sees himself as this like really intellectual rationalist and he has an extreme distaste for superstition and basically for any system of belief because it tore his family apart when he was younger because of his dad's extreme Jewish faith. He chose this career path because of his idol and his inspiration who was another celebrity paranormal debunker; but then this idol went missing no one knew what happened to him and it was kind of ironic that this guy who spent his life deconstructing mysteries would then go missing and become a mystery himself.
So it's surprising when Dr. Goodman is actually contacted by this guy out of the blue. He goes to visit him and his inspiration has now done a complete 180 and now believes in ghosts. What the guy says is "look, here are three cases that I cannot, with my rational mind, even I can't explain what happened in these three cases. You take a look at them and if you can tell me, if you can explain how this could happen, how these things could have happened, without ghosts, without the supernatural, then great I'll sleep easier at night. But I can't do it." What the film is then is Professor Goodman going to the three witnesses of these supernatural events, hearing their stories, which are then presented to us, and him trying to figure out whether or not there is a rational explanation for these things. There's also a more overarching story involving Professor Goodman himself, but that would be criminal to spoil.
So that's the very basic gist of what this film is about and I want to say I don't like ghost films that much. Especially modern ghost films. I think they're all the same, I think that they follow the exact same beats all the time, and I really am getting fed up with ghost films especially after all the Blumhouse stuff and the recent resurgence of them. With that being said this was the closest I've ever come to thinking there might be a foreseeable enjoyable future for the genre because I really really liked this film. It's not particularly scary, and that's something I'm gonna come to later. That's my main criticism, that I didn't find it that effective as a horror film. What it is is very well written with clever jokes, really tight intricate plotting that gets really twisty but never disappears up its own arse, well-rounded likable characters and in some cases unlikable characters that are just as well fleshed out and realized, and it's so well directed! That was my biggest surprise.
Andy Neyman and Jeremy Dyson, they've done stuff before. They've dip their toes into acting and into writing. I think Andy Neyman has done like some of the Darren brown stuff but they haven't made movies before. Obviously they've done the stage play but I was so impressed by how well they've transitioned into big-screen directing because this is, this looks so much better than all the Blumhouse stuff. This looks like a film made by someone who’s been making films for years. All of the technical aspects are really well done particularly the cinematography in the horror sequences especially. They use the frame in a way that's always really unsettling and clever the lighting looks brilliant, it's all great and it means that the sort of tense build-up stuff you're not just on edge because you're waiting for a loud noise you're on edge because they have so well presented and mounted it all. Towards the end as it gets a bit more fantastical they do some really clever visual flourishes as well, so I was really impressed with their directing.
I was also really impressed by all of the performances. We have people like Martin Freeman and Paul Whitehouse who if you're English you'll recognize him from adverts or TV (if you're American maybe not) but they give fantastic performances, but particularly Andy Neyman who is the person I was most impressed with throughout the whole thing. For his acting, for his writing, for his directing. I thought he was great.
It does slip into some of the modern horror cliches. It has the sort of quiet quiet BANG moments, and it has like creepy ghost girls, and those kind of generic things that I think things like The Conjuring and Insidious have turned me against - but it does them way better and it has a lot more going on under the surface. They've got a very layered interesting story to it. The whole thing-- You get it's titled as 'Ghost Stories' and the best moments of this film feel like that kind of campfire urban legend tale. It's not just like people wandering around and then a ghost gets in their face and goes BOO it has the construction and the sort of creepiness of a classic ghost story at times, mixed with a modern blend of humor.
It never goes full horror comedy, they're just realistic lines that are kind of funny that the characters say, and that worked really well too but as it moves into its like final third it gets really unpredictable, really strange, and quite dark, and I loved I loved the final third of this film in the same way that I think you love a particularly good episode of Black Mirror. The way that it all gets flipped on its head at the end and the way that you realize that there've been subtle clues leading up to events throughout the film. It's something that I would honestly want to watch again because of how well it all fits together in the end and because of how smart it is.
It does put some slightly clever spins on things you've seen before. There's a great joke about phone signal reception which is obviously something that if you watch horror films you get fed up with quite a lot because there's always "Oh there's no signal out here." Which is a problem no one ever has in the modern day but they have quite a good joke about that, and there's also the fact that the main character is a professional skeptic means that the thing that's often quite annoying in these ghost films where you have to watch people be unreasonably cynical about stuff that's obviously supernatural. That's made more interesting by the fact that the main character's job is to find rational explanations for things and it leads into a lot of interesting discussions and dissections about faith, about why we believe things, about whether or not it's easier to discount the supernatural or if it's actually harder to, about whether or not it's easier to think there's nothing after death or if it's easier to think the other way around - and it gets quite deep into some of that stuff which made it, again, a lot more interesting than most modern ghost movies.
So yeah, my main problem with it was that it wasn't that scary because a lot of the time it does these really fantastic build-up sequences where you're waiting for something really creepy to happen and like I said it uses the frame so perfectly, it uses things like focus and sound to really get under your skin, and then it might just end with a door rattling and you kinda go "uegh", but sometimes it does do things that are a little bit more creepy and those moments where, like I said it feels like a traditional ghost story, I think those moments work really really well.
It doesn't feel like a play either, that was the other thing. A lot of times when you watch these movies adapted from plays it can feel very very theatrical. You know people sat in rooms for ages and there are bits like that, there are some lengthy conversations, like the scenes where Professor Goodman is interviewing people. Like lengthy dialogue scenes, but A) they're well-made and they're well performed so you don't mind and B) I think they keep finding new ways to make it feel cinematic and I was impressed by how cinematic it felt throughout.
I would really recommend this, particularly to people who like horror. Also to people who like comedy, and also to people who may be a bit fed up of ghost movies because this is the most refreshing and different one that I've seen in a long time. I would give this a really really strong recommendation - an eight out of ten at least? So yeah I would urge people to check this out especially if they're thinking about watching some shitty Blumhouse horror instead. See this one. It's clever. It's clever and it's well made.