Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson bring their successfully stage play Ghost Stories to the screen, skilfully adapting their nod to Amicus horror anthologies with technical efficiency, wit and genuine scares.
Horror and comedy are two genres that are difficult to get right at the best of times. Even more so when you combine the two. Ghost Stories, an anthology of scary supernatural tales in the tradition of Amicus’ output from the 1960s and 1970s, finds a sweet-spot that leans towards genuine scares and sustained suspense with some fleeting moments of sparkling wit.
Written and directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson based on their successful stage play, Ghost Stories follows career debunker Phillip Goodman (Nyman) as he investigates three of ageing paranormal investigator Charles Cameron’s unsolved cases.
The first sees an old security guard (Paul Whitehouse) recall the time he experienced something rather nasty while on duty at a disused insane asylum. The second sees Goodman visit a young man left in a state of sustained paranoia after his car breaks down in haunted woodland. And the third finds a city banker (Martin Freeman) remember his run-in with a poltergeist.
Hung together in the best Amicus portmanteau traditions by Goodman’s investigation (and Nyman’s nerdy charm), Ghost Stories’ individual tales are presented without jarring seams as the sceptic has his beliefs increasingly tested. It helps that each story has, amongst some clues to the film’s underlying twist making a second viewing essential, a tonal and aesthetic balance.
This boasts engaging characters telling their campfire stories with an ironic wit sticking the knife into horror film cliché that’s as equally celebrated as it is turned on its head. Nyman and Dyson know the films that inspire Ghost Stories inside out; that gives it a distinct aura of nostalgia that’ll please genre fans while introducing new audiences to what was once a popular form of British cinema.
What’s more, the writer-directors understand how to build suspense prior to a satisfying pay-off. As well as wonderful use of lighting and sound to create tension, camera position is strategically choreographed to make full use of off-screen space and its associated ambiguity. Coupled with lots of close-ups to heighten our emotional attachment to the predicaments of the characters and enhance a sense of claustrophobia, Ghost Stories isn’t just technically efficient, but smartly fine-tuned.
It’s a shame the progression of the overarching plot isn’t as effective as the individual stories themselves. Backstory doesn’t find a satisfying denouement despite some clever subtleties in the epilogue’s staging. Thus, Ghost Stories’ bark fizzles away to a whimper.
Still, there’s plenty to enjoy. Technically, it’s a masterclass in suspense that’s enhanced by some wonderful production design. Freeman’s spirited performance also stands out while some genuine jolts to the nerves will cause more than a few to jump out of their seats.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Andy Nyman, Jeremy Dyson
Written by: Andy Nyman, Jeremy Dyson
Starring: Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, Martin Freeman
Released: 2017 / Genre: Documentary
Country: UK / IMDB
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Ghost Stories is currently on general release in UK cinemas.