Ghost Stories

Review by Katherine McLaughlin @Ms_K_McLaughlin

Directed by

Andy Nyman Jeremy Dyson

Starring

Andy Nyman Martin Freeman Paul Whitehouse

Anticipation.

We’ve heard good things about the play.

Enjoyment.

Spooky and emotionally engaging.

In Retrospect.

A potent blend of personal and political that’s genuinely haunting.

Martin Freeman heads up this unnerving horror compendium from writer/directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson.

Through the eyes of four men from very different walks of life, co-writers and directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson take us on a guided tour of bottled-up male anguish and a crumbling British society. This unnerving compendium has made the transition from a successful international stage show (whose fanbase includes the director John Landis) to the big screen and draws inspiration from a rich history of horror, recalling the chilling and nightmarish quality of films including the Amicus anthologies and 1945 portmanteau, Dead of Night.

Nyman plays our pragmatic guide through three separate supernatural tales, Professor Goodman, an academic who has devoted his life to debunking myths and taking down fraudulent psychics. We first meet the adult Goodman snatching away comfort from a grieving mother at a live clairvoyant show – and with that the film begins its line of enquiry into confronting harsh truths and challenging beliefs. Goodman is taken on a mysterious journey to a caravan park on the coast, where he is sent on a mission to solve a series of inexplicable hauntings. The howling wind of the off-season English shore is a cold and lonely place and provides a startling and fitting location to trawl through themes of isolation, grief and guilt.

Paul Whitehouse turns in a performance that is part nasty and part sympathetic as bitter, working-class widower Tony Matthews. Goodman meets Tony in a deserted, musty pub where he sinks down a short and a pint and casts his memory back to the time when he worked as a night watchman in an abandoned asylum for women.

Next up is a disturbed young man named Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther) who is still living at home with his parents. He’s distraught at what he is convinced was an encounter with the devil years previously. His bedroom walls are a shrine to the hoofed beast aside from a cheerful snap of Sooty and Sweep.

There’s humour among all the tragedy but Dyson and Nyman don’t overplay it. The camera is continually poked into Lawther’s pained expressions as he contorts his face under spooky red lights and the darkness of winding country lanes. Lawther’s face in these unbearably tense scenes resembles Maxwell Frere’s ventriloquist’s dummy in Dead of Night and also brings to mind Michael Redgrave’s affecting performance in the same film. Finally, Goodman convenes with flat-cap wearing businessman, Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman) in a vast, empty field where he is desperately searching for his hunting rifle.

All the male characters who features in Ghost Stories are haunted by terrible misfortune that has morphed into an acute sense of panic and self-loathing. Dyson and Nyman have stated there are some personal demons in the film and, as they look back to the late 1970s and their youth, they also cannily transfer a bleak mood of societal and private discontent to the present day. They explore uncomfortable topics such as racism, recession, mental health and troubling personal beliefs in a truly unnerving way, but also deliver huge emotional heft by imbuing in their characters with a convincing vulnerability.

Published 5 Apr 2018

Tags: Andy Nyman Jeremy Dyson Martin Freeman

Anticipation.

We’ve heard good things about the play.

Enjoyment.

Spooky and emotionally engaging.

In Retrospect.

A potent blend of personal and political that’s genuinely haunting.

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