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High spirits at the seaside in Ghost Stories

Peculiarly British film follows TV presenter who specialises in ‘outing’ fake psychics as he is sent to crack three cases his hero couldn't solve

06 April, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Andy Nyman as Professor Philip Goodman in Ghost Stories

GHOST STORIES
Directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman
Certificate 15
☆☆☆☆

A GHOST story should make you jump, it should make you question perceived truths, and above all, should give you a general sense of the collywobbles without quite knowing why.

This excellent film, adapted from a successful stage show, does all these things with a sense of joyful panache that has lingered like an unhappy spirit since the credits rolled.

Co-director Jeremy Dyson is a co-creator of The League of Gentleman and you can see this throughout. He has an eye for the grim world of contemporary Great Britain – this is a nation not made of up warm ale, maids cycling through the mist to church and lions and unicorns, but instead it’s a world of nicotine-stained pine veneer working men’s clubs, grim, wet static caravan parks, pebble-dashed, semi-detached suburbs with grotty net curtains and dumped sofas on railway cuttings.

Professor Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) is a TV presenter who specialises in “outing” fake psychics and showing up spiritualism.

Martin Freeman in Ghost Stories

One day he receives a package in the post – a tape from a 1970s paranormal investigator whose TV shows he enjoyed and who disappeared in strange circumstances and is presumed long dead.

Goodman heads to a windswept caravan park on a sea-bitten coast and is given a folder of three cases his hero could not solve – and is told it is his job to go out there and see if he can unravel what really happened, while perhaps casting some fresh light on his own scepticism.

Andy Nyman as Goodman is excellent – as he tackles others’ demons, he must confront ones of his own, focusing on an unhappy childhood, where an aggressive father means there is no haven from anti-Semitic bullying he suffers from at school.

Throw in Martin Freeman and a show-stealing turn from Paul Whitehouse and you have the ingredients for a film that feels utterly, peculiarly British.

Paul Whitehouse as Tony

The stories are set up to make the viewer pose questions themselves, filling you with a sense of expectation as to what is going to happen next, and then turns it upside down.

Tony (Whitehouse) is the nightwatchman looking after an old asylum – a seemingly obvious set up, you may think – but what unfolds is perfectly terrifying.

Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther) is the bullied child whose parents’ brilliantly observed home in suburbia offers none of the protection such a classic Edwardian family house should provide. Lawther, like his colleagues, is fantastic in every scene. Then there is the stockbroker (Freeman) who discovers money cannot buy happiness.

It asks interesting questions about why we like to consider the supernatural – what is it in our shared psyche that creates our need to question what we see, what makes our imagination provide answers that have nothing to do with rationality, and on top of all this, why do we like a tale that makes us shiver with fear?

All this creates a heady mix, aided too by dollops of humour, peculiar to British horror writing, and drawing on the tradition created by series such as Tales of the Unexpected.

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