So often, especially in the last 5 or 6 years, the ghost story or haunted house flick is besieged with jump scares and music stings which, in all fairness, have their place. But too often they find themselves falling prey to the linear, predictable storytelling that goes along with those tropes. Ghost Stories, however, is one of the most wholly original horror films of the past decade that will keep you guessing until the final two minutes of the film.
The film follows skeptic and paranormal debunker professor Goodman (Andy Nyman) who, after being contacted by his long thought dead idol, embarks on three separate supernatural investigations that will test his sketicism and his sanity. The film was adapted from the stage by director Jeremy Dyson and star Andy Nyman and features incredible turns by the 3 story leads Paul Whitehouse (Alice In Wonderland), Alex Lawther (The End of The F***ing World) and, perhaps most notably, Martin Freeman (Fargo, Black Panther).
The film opens fast (maybe a little too fast) as the setup is introduced but soon settles into a rhythm once professor Goodman begins his investigation. From there, the film does a remarkable job of keeping things tense and shrouded in mystery. Each of the three stories definitely has a beginning, middle, and end but each still concludes leaving the audience gasping and also wondering what’s missing. It’s a brilliant puzzle that left me frustrated until the final moments when everything clicked into place. Director Dyson meticulously set up clues both big and small for the inevitable payoff that requires multiple viewings.
All of the moody set pieces and atmospheric dread are made possible largely in part to Ole Bratt Birkeland’s brilliant cinematography that switches effortlessly between brooding, high haunt material to a more documentary style as Goodman interviews those involved with and on the outskirts of the stories. Birkeland also isn’t afraid to face the horrors of the film head on but also makes some interesting choices on when to hold back.
The mood is furthered heightened by the score provided by composer Frank Ilfman (Big Bad Wolves). The sound of the film is equal parts reminiscent of old Hammer horror as well as something closer to the work of Joe Bishara in films like Insidious. Comparisons aside, Ilfman still manages to create something unsettling and beautiful, much like the film itself.
To say much more about Ghost Stories is giving away some of its greatest secrets. It is, however, one of 2018’s finest genre efforts and it’s labyrinthine journey is worth the reward of a wholly original ending.
4 out of 5.
Ghost Stories is available now on VOD from IFC films.