Starring: Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Martin Freeman
Director: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Running Time: 97 mins
Ghost Stories is a British film about a man devoted to debunking false psychics and supernatural visionaries, but after being tasked with rationalising three unexplainable cases, he finds there is a lot more to the world than he first found.
Featuring some of the scariest moments in modern horror, there’s no denying that Ghost Stories is a bold and at times deeply unsettling film, bringing more passion and grounded realism to the world of the paranormal than is typical on the big screen. As a result, fans of the genre will likely have great fun with this film, but while it is enjoyably scary at times, it struggles with a frustratingly repetitive structure that makes for a slightly duller watch if you’re not as exhilarated by typical horror fare.
Let’s start with the horror, though, which is at its best properly scary, and very, very unnerving. Paranormal thrillers are too often predictable, jumpscare-heavy blockbusters, but Ghost Stories brings a little bit more grounded, folklore-like eeriness to the table, and in doing so its scariest moments feel a million times closer to home.
Now, whether that be in some of the shocking revelations that our psychic sceptic uncovers through his investigation, or simply the odd jumpscare, there are times when Ghost Stories will make you want to run and hide behind the sofa, made all the more terrifying through a potent and impressively melancholy atmosphere that seems to swallow any glimmer of hope or brightness like a devastating black hole.
As a result, horror fans will surely love Ghost Stories, as it takes a painfully tired paranormal premise and injects a real, bold energy into it. Casual viewers will also likely be impressed by its dark, almost oppressive atmosphere, but there is a point where the film indulges its passion for horror just that little bit too much.
Of course, a passionate, unique take on horror isn’t cause for criticism, and the film’s three folktale-like stories do make it that bit more accessible for general audiences. However, as entertainingly scary and tense as those stories often are, they do go on for a little too long, and as well as disrupting an initially riveting main narrative, prove frustratingly repetitive.
At first, the film follows Andy Nyman as the fake psychic debunker as he delves into the first of three supposedly unexplainable cases, a story that brings an impressively grounded mentality to an often preposterous genre. However, the film then switches to more of an anthology structure, taking you through the three cases of paranormal activity one after the other, and unfortunately letting that main story fall a little by the wayside.
It does all tie up moderately well, but over the course of about an hour of three fairly similar ‘ghost stories’, each less exciting than the last, the film does feel like it loses its way, and in the process never has the dark intensity that made it so bold and impressive at first, finishing with an underwhelming climax that feels a long way away from its initially grounded screenplay.
Overall, then, Ghost Stories was a bit of a mixed bag for me. As an out-and-out horror movie, it’s a strong film, with bold directing and good, unnerving tension in between a few terrifying jumpscares. However, as a good narrative drama, it really falls down after its opening act, getting too caught up in its three tales of the paranormal to keep the most interesting part of the film in centre stage, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4.