With high replay value and some clever pacing, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson have transposed their West End play Ghost Stories to the big screen with a refreshing eye for originality, spinning a grand three-part horror anthology into one thoroughly entertaining and unpredictable film that never stops subtly building towards its tremendous finale. And that’s ultimately where the genius in what Nyman and Dyson’s project lies, building an engaging central narrative that wraps around these individually fascinating and genuinely terrifying ghost stories; it works both as a horror anthology – a rarity these days, but with homage to classics like Dead of Night and Tales from the Crypt – and as a cohesive film.
The wrap-around narrative concerns Phillip Goodman (Nyman, who fits into his role perfectly) as your typical skeptic and supernatural cynic, a constant presence through three chapters where each give the directing duo reason to fill Ghost Stories with beautifully realised locations, focusing heavily on atmosphere whether it be ripped from the depths of a dilapidated asylum, a seaside caravan park, or a dark and foreboding forest. Paul Whitehouse shows up the first chapter as an unfortunate night watchman for said asylum; Alex Lawther plays through a hit-and-run in the second; and the ever-so-brilliant Martin Freeman shows up for the final chapter, embodying a go-getting trader who runs into some pretty terrifying and heartbreaking stuff. The way all three vignettes unfold is rich and rewarding, playing from the clever minds of two people who have very obviously done their homework and know exactly what works when it comes to threading originality into what in lesser hands would be a less than original horror flick, both in the complex stories and elegant visuals.
The deeper cuts of this film open up to reveal a great deal of anxiety and fear, two states that are inseparable from just about every second of the film, widening the scope and giving Nyman and Dyson’s work some great depth and meaning. This kind of emotional degradation is complemented by everyday settings transformed into menacing, unsafe places; there’s real dread here, but never more than the more casual horror fan will be able to handle, a delicate balance which will hopefully open Ghost Stories up to a wider audience who should easily appreciate this outside of the often restricting horror genre.
Made with intelligence and a genuine love of horror, Ghost Stories will undoubtedly be going down as one of this year’s finest works both in and out of the horror genre – and with films like Hereditary and A Quiet Place that is some very high praise.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Ghost Stories screened as part of SXSW Film Festival 2018, where it was originally reviewed. It will have its Australian premiere as part of the Sydney Film Festival in June. For tickets and more details, head HERE.