British cinema has a rich history of anthology horror storytelling. From 1945’s Dead of Night to Amicus pictures like From Beyond the Grave, Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt, the portmanteau horror is a staple of the genre, masterfully resurrected by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson. Adapted from their stage play, Ghost Stories follows famed paranormalist, Phillip Goodman (Nyman) as he investigates three unsolved supernatural mysteries, uncovering a great deal more besides.
While the tone is predominantly played straight, there are several blackly comedic moments that perforate the dense atmosphere. Each of the stories stacks lingering dread and intensity, unafraid to show as much as tell. The first, The Night Watchman features Paul Whitehouse walking the grounds of an old, women’s refuge. With contemporary eyes attuned to modern horror tropes, this story still finds ways to deliver good scares. Whitehouse flourishes in this non-comedic role and the pacing of the yarn is satisfactorily measured.
The second story introduces The End of the F***ing World’s Alex Lawther as a troubled teen, recounting a disturbing encounter on a dark country road. His performance is full of jitter and shudders, giving him the characteristics of a frightened bird. There’s a far more profound subtext buried here but to give that away would be telling. The third and final story brings Goodman to a stock broker (Martin Freeman), waiting for his wife to give birth to their baby son. An old dark house out in the middle of nowhere with things going bump in the night.
All three stories are notably male-centric, often dealing with the absence of a female presence and this theme interlaces deftly throughout the narrative. The tales are unnerving, with twists and turns that may not be to everybody’s liking. The divisive final reel is something that I guarantee will ensure a re-watch of Ghost Stories sometime soon. It’s so rare to be in the company of a subtly developed, suspenseful anthology horror (The ABCs of Death and V/H/S utterly fail on both accounts) but Nyman and Dyson utilise the solid performances with exceptional visual and sound design. One desperately hopes the pair deliver any future projects sooner rather than later.
Ghost Stories is out now in cinemas.
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