It isn’t often that horror films succeed in being completely unexpected but that is exactly what you get with co-directors Andy Ryman and Jeremy Dyson’s new paranormal feature, Ghost Stories. Boasting a talented cast including the likes of Martin Freeman, Alex Lawther, Paul Whitehouse and Ryman himself, the film succeeds in its leap from stage to screen, staying true to the original plot while also allowing performances from its leads to breathe new life into the 2010 script.
The film centres on the journey of Professor Phillip Goodman (Ryman) as he visits the victims of three separate ghost stories at the behest of his childhood hero – a once-famed, paranormal-sceptic television presenter, who challenges him to find an explanation to said ghost stories. While the opening part of the film involving Goodman and his dying idol feels slightly contrived, it does definitely set a good benchmark for the unsettling oddball horror which ensues.
Goodman begins his paranormal odyssey with watchman Tony’s (Paul Whitehouse) story which – despite the actor making the best out of his scenes – feels forced, relying too heavily on jump-scares and offering little out of the ordinary in the zeitgeist of modern horror. While this makes the first segment largely unspectacular, it’s not to say the film does not get better; Alex Lawther’s portrayal of Simon Rifkind – a jittery and obviously damaged teenager – steals the show, incorporating far more subtlety to his story’s horror with a lot of the focus being placed around the psychological rather than the paranormal. Martin Freeman follows this up with a convincing performance as the well-to-do Mike Priddle who, we learn has lost his wife to childbirth. Freeman’s character is an interesting one: he’s embellished with upper-class gusto while his past occasionally allows a grief-stricken and tormented man to shine through.
The film benefits from location shooting – offering far more to the viewer than the limited sets of the stage production – and helps to immerse the audience and build the tension of each of the tales. Ryman and Dyson’s direction is another high-point for the film as the pair use a number of clever techniques and comedy to lift the film: Lawther’s story in particular springs to mind in that regard. The directors dot laughs around the script to ease the tension before catching audience members unawares with the pay-off.
In summary, then, Ghost Stories is a film which has, for the most part, succeeded in its jump from theatre to the silver screen. While it starts off fairly predictably, it grows into its own the more it delves into the human side of the horror genre and becomes unique with it frankly stunning twists. The film is, therefore, a thoroughly enjoyable affair – if not a particularly scary one.
In cinemas nationwide from 6 April