‘Ghost Stories’ According To An Idiot
I was lucky enough to be part of the first audience to ever watch this film. I’d love to say it was due to Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman valuing my expert film reviews but really I just bought a ticket like any old common peasant.
Synopsis: Arch sceptic Professor Phillip Goodman embarks upon a terror filled quest, when he stumbles across a long lost file containing details of three cases of inexplicable ‘hauntings’.
So yeah. Ghost Stories. I went to see it six times at the theatre. So they’d have had to have really fucked up for me not to like this film. But did I love it?
Yes I did.
The stage show was absolutely amazing. Every time I went to see it I was still full of adrenaline during moments I knew were going to happen. It was still the same when watching the film. To have seen a story unfold 7 times now and still be completely captivated is an amazing thing but honestly, it’s exactly what I expected from Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman.
They are both exceptionally talented men and their love of horror and comedy shines through this film just as it did for the stage show. Jeremy has been one of my heroes since I lost myself in the world of Royston Vasey 20 years ago. We may not get to see him on screen in The League Of Gentlemen but he’s just as responsible for it’s brilliance as Shearsmith, Pemberton and Gatiss. If you need any proof of that, watch Ghost Stories. It’s full of the brilliantly dark humour and subtle comedy along with being genuinely terrifying.
I was lucky enough to see Andy play Professor Goodman in 4 of my 6 visits to the stage show and he brings him to life wonderfully in the film too. When I saw another man play the part, it was still wonderful but I was missing Nyman. For me, he absolutely has to play that part so thank goodness he did so in the film. It makes so much sense for the central character to be played by somebody who created the whole thing anyway.
The stage show is actually presented as a lecture by Goodman where he directly addresses the audience in between the horrifying ghost stories playing out live. That wouldn’t have worked for the film so Goodman is a bit of a TV celebrity instead. He’s still a professor but he fronts a TV show where he confronts lying psychics. His hero is a professor called Charles Cameron who had a TV show in the 70s but disappeared off the face of the Earth and is presumed dead. Goodman is surprised to get a message from Cameron and goes to meet him, receiving three cases that Cameron could never solve. Not being able to solve the cases made Cameron feel that his life’s work of debunking ghost stories was a waste as it appears that ghosts are real after all. Goodman gladly takes up the challenge of investigating these three cases to prove that they can be explained.
Another main difference from the stage show is that we get more backstory on Goodman and his family life and history. That’s something you don’t get from the stage play and helps to flesh him out as a lead character in a film.
That’s where I’ll leave you on the story front. You’ll have to watch it for yourself to see what happens!
Now, how have I got this far without mentioning the cast??
Paul Whitehouse plays the night watchman and the moment I heard this was going to be the case I knew it was the perfect casting. He’s brilliant as expected. He plays him brilliantly. He’s funny, slightly menacing and your typical geezer you’d find in a working men’s club. But then there’s the emotion and the pain behind the eyes. I can’t think of any other actor who would have done that character justice so perfectly.
Alex Lawther plays Simon Rifkind who is probably the most notably different to his stage show character. In the stage show, Rifkind is quite comical and a big mummy’s boy. In this film, while still comical, he’s more damaged and weird than he is in the stage show. It’s certainly no bad thing. Alex Lawther is one of our most promising young actors, after becoming familiar to most of us as the boy from that Black Mirror episode with the webcam… He does a great job in the film. He’s weird, camp and jittery and the visit to his house is genuinely unsettling.
Then there’s the big one, Martin Freeman. We were lucky enough to get a Q&A after the film with Andy, Jeremy and Paul Whitehouse and Andy described Martin perfectly. He’s an internationally famous actor but he’s not a ‘star’. He’s not Tom Cruise. When you hire Martin Freeman you’re not hiring a load of baggage that comes with it like you do when you have a ‘star’. I completely agree. Martin Freeman is just a good actor and, most importantly for this film I believe, he’s very much ‘one of ours’. He’s Tim from The Office for god’s sake! It’s Martin Freeman off the telly, out of your living room where you feel all safe and warm. He’s not Bilbo or even Watson. He’s Martin Freeman and we like him.
Martin is great as Mike Priddle, the stuck up businessman. He plays him just as the character is in the stage show but certainly gives the character his own spin. It’s great that they managed to get him on board too as it must have helped greatly in getting the film shown in America. Not that it should make a difference though. This film would be worthy of being showed in any country, Freeman or not.
Last week, I went to see Flatliners and it was fine. It felt like a remake that absolutely did not need to happen. I’ve not seen the original but I can’t imagine remaking it added anything of worth. It was alright. It did a job and I’ll never watch it again. It wasn’t scary and I didn’t care about any of the characters.
To compare that horror film with Ghost Stories… well they’re incomparable. Ghost Stories is incomparable to most of the terrible horror films released the days. The biggest difference? Ghost Stories is actually scary. I was scared. I knew what was going to happen and I was still scared. It’s a nerve wracking, unsettling and tense film with little laughs throughout to make you feel better.
The film uses barely any CGI, almost everything you see is entirely real and actually happening in front of you. Andy Nyman’s knowledge of stage trickery from working on Derren Brown’s stage shows for years means that he likes to do things for real. He knows how to make things look great without resorting to computers and it works. Your brain knows it’s looking at something real. It takes somebody telling you that no CGI was used for you to go “oh yeah, that’s why it was so scary”. It’s easy to spot a crap CGI monster in modern horror films but it’s weirdly harder to realise you’re not watching CGI, probably because there’s just so much of it these days.
All in all, I had the most wonderful evening watching a genuinely incredible piece of British cinema written by two of our greatest talents and starring some of our best actors. I then got to see the men themselves do a Q&A in which all of their answers were so interesting.
Of course, film is subjective and this film ticks basically every box in a list of my favourite things but I really think it deserves this rating just for being a horror film that actually made me feel scared. I was starting to think that might never happen again.
5 out of 5.