Three spooky stories being investigated by a supernatural debunker are brought to vivid life in the new horror film Ghost Stories, which begins as a straightforward anthology before nicely weaving its framing device into the narrative.
Written and directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman from their stage play, Nyman stars in the film version of Ghost Stories as Professor Goodman, a paranormal investigator who amusingly confronts a fraudulent spiritual communicator on stage in the film’s opening scene.
Goodman has long wondered what has happened to Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrne), a famed supernatural debunker who inspired him in his career and vanished without a trace some years ago. When the professor receives an invitation to meet his hero, now living in obscurity, he leaps at the chance.
Cameron, it turns out, turned his back on his profession after being confronted with three supernatural events that he could not explain. And the meat of Ghost Stories’ anthology-based structure begins as he passes Goodman the files to conduct his own investigation.
In Ghost Stories’ first and most effective tale, Goodman hears the story of Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse), a former security guard at an abandoned mental institution who takes us back to the fateful night he encountered a terrifying presence.
There’s some real hair-raising, slow-burn horror movie filmmaking going on during this story, as the lone security guard walks around dark abandoned hallways with a faulty flashlight. It’s not terribly original stuff, but it’s intense and genuinely scary, and the best sequence that Ghost Stories has to offer.
The next two tales offer somewhat diminishing results: the disturbed Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther) offers up the story of a late-night drive in the woods, a breakdown, and a mysterious creature, while Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman) tells the tale of creepy goings-on in advance of the upcoming birth of a child.
These tales are a less effective because Ghost Stories slowly weaves in the framing device of Goodman’s investigation into their narratives. This leads to an satisfying conclusion that nicely ties everything together, but doesn’t provide the kind of scares promised by the first story of Whitehouse’s night watchman.
But the narrative developments in Ghost Stories’ twisty final third are well-handled, using a variety of elements that have been weaved into the preceding film without drawing attention to themselves. Ghost Stories may lack scares in its climactic scenes, but delivers some real surprises.
At its best, Ghost Stories represents a well-told horror anthology in the vein of old British chillers from Amicus or Hammer in the 1970s. It’s a sure-handed feature debut from filmmakers Dyson and Nyman (who is especially effective in the lead), and even though the film doesn’t succeed as much with the second two stories as it does with the first, it’s a scarily good time overall.