Review: “The Ghoul” Is A Confident & Unique Psycho-Drama From First Time Writer-Director Gareth Tunley

Deceptive psycho-drama The Ghoul from debuting writer-director Gareth Tunley sees a troubled detective go undercover to unearth a mystery surrounding a strange double murder. But quite quickly, the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur…

Detached and strangely emotionally impenetrable, writer-director Gareth Tunley’s foreboding The Ghoul meditates on mental illness through the guise of the psychological thriller. That it keeps its audience at arms-length is suggestive of its enigmatic protagonist’s state of mind while reeling us into its inherent mysteries and general ambiguity.

Tom Meeten plays Chris, a detective who decides to go undercover to investigate a psychiatrist believed to have links with a double murder. Chris is a fractured soul dealing with an internal conflict that remains unclear throughout. Meeten gives him a disquieting ambivalence, almost forcing us to peel away the layers of a psyche shunning attention.

Tunley, making his debut as writer-director, meditates on this man’s mindset, the line between reality and fantasy blurring as his investigation twists and turns. Plot and character development slowly burn, an after-thought to thematic motifs and a melancholic nostalgia referencing a geographical north and south divide. It is this, the motorway sign revealing arrival into London, that becomes Chris’ reoccurring bad dream.

The Ghoul is an affecting piece of work. In hindsight, the oddly vacant emptiness of psychiatrist Fisher’s office is less inauthentic the more I consider it. Contrast this with fellow shrink Morland’s cramped box room surrounded by symbolic metaphysical trinkets and you begin to understand this is all playing into Chris’ warped sense of identity, place and time.

Geoffrey McGivern, as the eccentric Morland, stands out, partly because his cartoonish idiosyncrasies are at odds with the sobriety of his fellow cast. That said, he isn’t severed from The Ghoul’s solemn tone, in effect adding to its disconcerting otherworldliness as the film’s animated court jester.

Talented writer-director in her own right, Alice Lowe, calls upon the minor keys to play old university friend Kathleen, and is another stand out support player; her ordinariness a beguiling distraction from Chris’ inner anxieties.

The connection to Ben Wheatley can’t be ignored. Tunley has had small parts in a number of his films while the cast, including long-term Wheatley collaborator Lowe, have enjoyed fruitful relationships with the celebrated British filmmaker. It comes as no small surprise to see Wheatley’s name on the credits as Executive Producer but his presence is felt much deeper as Tunley draws from his peer’s hyperreal stage where domesticity is painted with bleak lines, bloody violence and acerbic humour.

Certainly, the first-time writer-director has been taking notes, confidently tackling a tough subject matter with the determination to shew convention under the door. But he isn’t a Wheatley clone. Indeed, there are hints of Lynch, Argento and Cronenberg here too. He’s a filmmaker eager to invent with the tenacity and guile to follow that through despite budgetary constraints.

The deceptions prevalent in The Ghoul don’t begin and end with the title. In fact, it’s referenced in the film at least twice with two different meanings. It’s suggestive of something nasty in the closet, but there’s no monster ready to jump out. At least not in the obvious sense. That’s not to say there isn’t something monstrous here but it’s not a horror movie. It is actually difficult to categorise.

What it lacks in finesse, it makes up for in tone, style and delivery; unyielding, claustrophobic, disorientating. It might ask questions it knowingly fails to answer, but in doing so, becomes an attractively dark psycho-drama that will challenge audiences to think for themselves.

the ghoul, film review, four stars

Written by Dan Stephens

Directed by: Gareth Tunley
Written by: Gareth Tunley
Starring: Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe, Rufus Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Niamh Cusack
Released: 2016 / Genre: Drama-Thriller
Country: UK / IMDB
More reviews: Latest | Archive

The Ghoul is in UK cinemas from August 4.

Dan Stephens
About the Author
Dan Stephens is the founder and editor of Top 10 Films. He's usually pondering his next list, often inspired by his adoration for 1980s Hollywood, a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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