With the resurgence of Horror films as box office draws, where even underwhelming dreck like Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare can pull in 18+ Million in an opening weekend, the marketplace has seen a proliferation of the genre’s content this year. Ripe for more original content, like the box office behemoth that is A Quiet Place, this new playground seems more apt to herald and reward original content than the retreads of the past. And in select US theaters and on VOD this weekend from IFC Films comes a reworked stage play that pays homage to classic paranormal tales with its tone, while still striving for original context, Ghost Stories.
Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman) has made a living out of debunking false paranormal purveyors. Having been inspired by his childhood hero, fellow television skeptic Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrne), Goodman is shocked when he receives a mysterious package that leads him to the believed dead pseudo mentor. Cameron dares Goodman to investigate 3 cases that he could never debunk and swear that the paranormal is still a hoax. Goodman investigates the 3 cases, a night-watchman Tony (Paul Whitehouse) terrorized by a malevolent spirit, a peculiar and paranoid young man Simon (Alex Lawther) and the after-effects of a terrifying hit and run and finally Mike (Martin Freeman) who explains the frightening circumstances surrounding his wife and her pregnancy. Goodman starts to see what seems to be visions of post-life specters through his travels but soon realizes that what may be haunting him might be from his own story.
Adapted from their own original stage production, co-writer and directors Nyman and veteran Tracey Ullman writer Jeremy Dyson have taken a slightly different tack in bringing the film to the big screen. The film features many scene cutaways that are literal ripping and peeling back the background to reveal a new environment, a clear nod to the stage where the material started. The film moves at a deliberate pace, though never feels slow or dull, which allows it to unfurl more like a vintage tale of horror suspense as opposed to the more jump scare laden impact that most modern horror films are enamored with. The stage background and the deliberate pacing gives the film an entirely different and refreshing feel than most of what is out there for consumption right now.
Nyman does decent work here in triple duty as our lead Professor Goodman, He has an everyday man type of quality to him but also maintains the slight arrogance that Goodman himself starts the film with much of. Of the three tales, the first encounter is the most effective scare wise as Whitehouse delivers a great performance and the setting/atmosphere of his workplace adds so much to the tension of the story. The second works as an oddity as Lawther turns in a special performance that only heightens the tale with his inherent creepiness already on display before the tale is even examined. Freeman is also good relating the tale of his wife in the middle of a field before the shocking end to his segment. The final sequence, the end of the wraparound tale started by Goodman finding Cameron and going on his quest, is likely to be a divisive one as the segment takes an immediate twist and starts dragging the audience down an environment hopping rabbit hole before ending in a setting and plot point that sadly has been used way too many times before. It’s an off final note in a film that manages to feel original up that point.
Nyman and Dyson do an effective job in transferring the material from stage to screen and its delightful that they were able to adapt it themselves as you can see the admiration for their own material and dedication to delivering it exactly the way they want in every frame. The film may not be perfect as some sequences definitely work better than others, not uncommon in an anthology film, but the first frightening tale alone is worth the investment of time and ultimately the film as a whole will not leave audiences disappointed.