Film Review: Ghost Stories

This modern-day portmanteau horror film cleverly ties together three stories of the supernatural through one character's search to debunk the apparently undebunkable.
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Professor Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) is not a believer: not in ghosties nor ghoulies nor long-leggity beasties. He's built a career on exposing charlatans with his "Psychic Cheats" television series, inspired by his childhood idol, Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrne), an early exposer of classic "supernatural" ruses adapted for modern sensibilities.

Which is why when Cameron—who vanished decades earlier without a trace—contacts Goodman, Goodman answers. He finds his terminally ill idol living in a rundown trailer park and haunted—if you will—by three incidents of apparently paranormal phenomena that were never satisfactorily explained.

Case number one involves a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) and a haunting at an institution for deranged and unwanted women. Case two revolves around a high-strung young man (Alex Lawther) who once ran across…something on a dark and heavily wooded road and has never recovered his equilibrium. And case three centers on a financier (Martin Freeman) whose wealth can't insulate him from the aftermath of his late wife's troubled pregnancy.

Adapted from a stage play of the same title by U.K. writer-directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman (who also plays Goodman), Ghost Stories is a surprisingly satisfying dive into good, old-fashioned short tales of mystery and imagination. And while it may not be axiomatic that a multi-episode film is only as good as its wraparound story, Ghost Stories benefits from an unusually effective one that both makes perfect sense and is startlingly poignant.

The filmmakers have a strong sense of space that comes to the fore in the scenes in Cameron's claustrophobic trailer, but also plays into less constricted locales. And their willingness to cut straight to the heart of religious- and class-based assumptions is bracing.

Comparisons to U.K. classics like 1945's Dead of Night are patently unfair, given that Dead of Night had one all-time classic segment amid a cluster of unmemorable ones. (Come on, who remembers anything other than the malevolent ventriloquist's dummy?) On its own terms, Ghost Stories is a tidy little compendium of spooky tales well told, and the wraparound doesn't diminish them.

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