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SXSW 2018: Ghost Stories Review – A Truly Unsettling Journey

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Interview with writer/directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman

Starring Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther

Written by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman

Directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman


Ghost Stories is undeniably British. Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. Everything about the film presents itself with a certain sense of class, restraint, and artistry that Hollywood often ignores. Now, I’m fully aware that this is a sweeping generalization but I stand by the idea that horror films from different regions of the world can be told apart not just by language but also by the way they are crafted.

Ghost Stories follows Professor Goodman (Nyman), a skeptic who lives his life disproving psychics and seers as charlatans who prey upon the grieving. His intentions are pure, although it’s clear that he has an ulterior motive of convincing himself that there’s nothing after life and that science and reason should be the way of life, a direct response to the negative experiences of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing.

When Goodman is contacted by Charles Cameron, his hero and also renowned skeptic, he is tasked with investigating three stories that seemingly cannot be explained; one follows a night watchman (Whitehouse) who sees the ghost of a young girl in the abandoned asylum he looks after; one focuses on a young man (Lawther) who encounters a Satanic creature while driving down a country road; the last is about a businessman (Freeman) whose desire for a child leads to terrifying events occurring in his home. With each investigation, Goodman’s skepticism is called into question as he himself becomes haunted by strange, unexplainable visions.

Focusing heavily on atmosphere, Ghost Stories makes wonderful use of the physical spaces in which it’s filmed. From extreme closeups of wrinkled, calloused hands to wide, distant shots of fields where a mysterious figure lurks in the distance, Dyson and Nyman delight in juxtaposing the physical space of the film. By doing so, I never felt like I was on solid ground. Every new scene had me scanning every inch of every frame, desperate to get some kind of advance warning of whatever evil was lurking in that present moment. Furthermore, by utilizing these constantly shifting perspectives, the film didn’t need to rely too heavily on jump scares – although there were certainly a few of those – because Ghost Stories exudes tension and fear.

While the cast is nearly all male, the terrors that affect the characters are almost exclusively female. The night watchman is haunted by visions of a young girl, Lawther’s character fears the wrath and presence of his mother, and Freeman is beholden to his wife and her wishes. It’s an interesting dynamic because there isn’t really anything specifically “evil” about these female entities. Rather, as Professor Goodman at one point hypothesizes, they’re merely manifestations of the inner troubles that plague these men.

Ghost Stories is the kind of horror film that will stay with you long after it’s over. Cleverly written and wonderfully realized, this phantasmagoria will get under your skin and refuse to leave.

  • Ghost Stories
4.5

Summary

A brooding, atmospheric, and deeply unsettling film, Ghost Stories will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of the year. This is British horror at its finest.

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