Ghost Stories is a British horror film directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, who also stars in the film as Professor Goodman. Personally, I really enjoyed the film and because it is still showing in some cinemas, I will refrain from going into spoiler territory.
The film follows Nyman’s Professor Goodman, a man who debunks paranormal theories for a living on his reality show. Goodman is contacted by a famous “paranormal debunker” who was allegedly dead and asks Goodman to try and resolve three cases he deems impossible to explain. Thus, setting the protagonist into the plot.
Up until this point, the film is a bit odd: it opens up with a sequence of home videos from Goodman’s childhood showing us that his family was disturbed, and thus giving us an insight on the character’s mind and a reason for his detached attitude towards everything.
The scene that follows is an insert from Goodman’s TV show, where he speaks to the camera in a documentary style. The result of that mix of different styles and the amount of information the audience is given during the “prologue” is confusing, but as the film plunges into the main storyline, it seems to tie up a little bit.
Goodman decides to analyse the three cases and sets of on his journey. He finds Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse), the “victim” of the first case, and as Tony describes his experience, the film shifts from Goodman’s point of view to Tony’s in a very long flashback, almost as if Tony’s story was its own short film.
The same happens when Goodman talks to the two other victims, Simon (Alex Lawther) and Mike (Martin Freeman), and because of that I assumed that Ghost Stories was actually an anthology. During each ‘short film’, focus was given to each individual character, thus shifting the importance from Goodman. But as the film progressed, I realised that the film was actually a ‘hyperlink’ film – where it plays with time, character’s storylines and motivation, plot twists etc.
With that in mind, some of the directions the film seemed to take made sense – such as the different styles in the beginning –, but on the other hand, I felt it took away the relevance of Goodman’s character.
This was especially apparent to me because he is still the central, ‘binding’ character (instead of the usual ‘common thread’ between the short films that is often used in anthology films). Goodman is trying to resolve the three cases, but what happens within them is far more interesting than anything he actually does, meaning that although he is the ‘main character’ in theory, we don’t really care about him and thus the ending loses a little of its power and impact.
I felt Ghost Stories could have used Goodman’s character a little bit more, and perhaps should have spent more time in making us care about him before going further into the storyline of the “victims” – just showing us some snaps from his childhood and jumping into the present didn’t work very well in creating a three-dimensional, likable character, nor in the very least creating a character we would be invested in.
Having said that, Goodman is not completely ignored throughout the film – as he progresses with his discoveries he becomes more and more troubled with visions of himself and of a figure of a man in a hoodie, which is a build up for the ending and makes us remember that he is still the main character and holds some power in the storyline.
Ghost Stories plays very well with the understanding of horror – I read and saw many reviews in which people were complaining about the use of jump scares, but personally I didn’t feel that that was a negative factor.
The film was well made; the horror tropes created an eerie atmosphere, filled with suspense that was enhanced by the beautiful cinematography. The tones and colour pallet in this film shift as Goodman progresses with his search – each instalment being darker than Goodman’s original storyline.
The first one relies on a flashlight, which works perfectly with the eerie tension of the noises and visions that the characters sees. Goodman’s scenes become more and more monochromatic and in tones of blue as he becomes troubled with his own visions and confusion of what is real and what is not. But moreover, the film understands that horror is not only horrific monsters, violence and gore, but also what is within us: our memories, our troubles and how we become tangled in our own guilt until we drown in it.
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