So cupcakes, I’ve finally returned, summoned back to the land of the living by Odeon’s Scream Unseen, thinking a fiver’s got to be worth the gamble. If you haven’t heard of the scheme, basically you don’t know what you’re watching until it starts, although at least with Scream Unseen you know it’s going to be a horror. If you really can’t stand the uncertainty, the hive mind of Twitter usually cracks it a few days beforehand thanks to the cryptic clues. This time, it turned out to be “Ghost Stories”, the new British film featuring Martin Freeman. I’d stayed clear of any spoilers and even trailers so was very green coming into the film.
Our main character, Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman), is a paranormal investigator, or more to the point a paranormal de-bunker. We realise quickly that he’s not a happy chap in his own life, but we don’t get much time to ponder this before we’re thrust into the main flow of the story. He meets his idol in a dingy caravan and he’s given three case files, the ones his hero couldn’t ‘solve’.
It’s a brilliantly executed trilogy of stories, all connected by the common thread of being unsolved cases, and Professor Goodman’s determination to achieve what his mentor could not. The stories revolve around three separate individuals: Paul Whitehouse as a traumatised night watchman, Alex Lawther as a mentally impaired young man and Martin Freeman as a disturbed and grief-stricken city high flyer. Each story is very different and each boasts its own edgy twist, with one of the stories providing a deeply shocking moment I really wasn’t expecting. There’s something particularly effective in the use of performers best known for comedy – Martin Freeman and Paul Whitehouse that lends an added edge of macabre uncertainty to proceedings and, of course, co-writer/ director Jeremy Dyson (upon whose West End play the film is based) is a member of The League Of Gentlemen and an old hand at blending dark, gothic horror with blackly ironic gallows humour.
Overall, the film is very reminiscent of “Tales Of The Unexpected” in its storytelling style (for those not old enough to remember “Tales”, think “Black Mirror” without the tech and with more paisley pattern fabric) but there’s a distinctly modern sensibility in the narrative breadcrumbs being dropped the whole way through until the reveal of a fourth story we weren’t aware was being told, completing the anthology. It’s not all dramatic twists and dark reveals though, there are more than a few solid jump scares in the mix and I don’t mind admitting I hid behind my hands a couple of times.
As the film was approaching its end, I’d kind of made up my mind to expect an allegory of sorts for mental illness but I was wrong and while the twist wasn’t as M Night Shyamalan-esque as maybe I was expecting, it’s still pretty solid.
“Ghost Stories” is classic British ghost storytelling; creepy and unnerving, with intriguing and well-rounded characters and enough surprises to keep you on your toes.