"Nyman and Dyson have created a wonderfully imaginative, strange world of threatening despair and decay"
Ghost Stories was originally a play written by Jeremy Dyson (League of Gentleman) and Andy Nyman (best known for the work he has done with Psychological Illusionist Derren Brown).
Marketing for the play was unusual in so much as no production photographs were produced, only stills and video monitors exposing reactions from the audience; with an announcement at the end requesting all spectators to refrain from telling anybody about anything they’ve seen, so it might be kept fresh for newcomers.
A tremendous atmosphere is created in Ghost Stories, almost of a dream like quality. A strange world where an evil hopelessness lurks and a seemingly natural disintegration is inevitable.
Ghost Stories is comparable with a ghost train at an amusement park, where the brakes have all but vanished. A kind of anthology of supernatural stories, following the vein of Amicus portmanteau movies from the 1960s.
Each individual story, of which there are three, is made that bit stranger and joltier as the film progresses, drawing you in with its encompassing narrative. The detail is gradually built upon.
Nyman and Dyson effectively manage to pull off a time-honoured narrative trick, that has been around since the early years of cinema. Whitehouse, Lawther and Freeman are terrific but most especially Lawther, who reels you in with his intense performance, in equal measure to his ability to make you laugh.
The subtle undertones on screen are what create the most unease, a combination of bizarre worlds and their interiors of a decaying bleakness. Nyman plays Professor Philip Goodman, who is a lecturer, TV personality and an exposer of the paranormal, who so happens to be an atheist also. He sees it as his duty to unveil the hoaxes set by fraudsters.
It is important to add that his childhood was not happy, with a father who was an attentive Jew, and harsh on Philip and his older sister. Philip grew up in awe of a 1970s TV celebrity, also an exposer, or “debunker” but who went missing at the peak of his stardom, and was even thought to have died. That is until he contacts Philip, with the revelation of his disappearance being to do with personal circumstances, and the fact that the supernatural might not be fake after all.
He is advised to re-visit three otherwise closed cases, none of which drew a valid explanation. Paul Whitehouse (Tony) is a night watchman, who bears witness to a disturbing vision. Alex Lawther (Simon), a Schoolboy is terrified on a drive home and Martin Freeman (Mike), a retired City Trader is confronted by a poltergeist, who he suspects represents the child he lost.
Philip tracks them down, one by one, and in turn we learn of their experiences, at which point he suspects they may hold significance to him personally. Philip meets Tony in a dismal, as well as empty, disconcerting pub. Tony is, at first opposing, exhausted and nettlesome, yet also jokey in his mannerisms, with a subtle hint of never being far away from ever lashing out towards this anorak of a television academic, who has gone out of his way to find him, and in doing so inevitably wants to pry in to his past.
Lawther, whose case is my personal favourite, is not far off completely losing it, not helped by his dysfunctional set-up at home. Freeman’s Mike is a perfect example of a “smarmy piece of work,” who on his country estate, and an obvious anti-Semitist, makes jibes at Philip, like “your lot,” which leads us on to a revelationary, disturbing flashback, something that has never, in fact, removed itself from Philip’s head.
Ghost Stories - Nyman and Dyson have created a wonderfully imaginative, strange world of threatening despair and decay.