Film Review: Ghost Stories (2017)

4-stars copy

Loyal genre devotees Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson bring their critically acclaimed stage show to the big screen, with all the necessary bumps and thuds very much in tact.

Play-to-screen adaptations are usually a bit of a mixed bag, especially when it comes to what’s scary and what’s not. Being face to face with something is very different to having that extra layer of removal, and jump scares really rule the roost. The Daniel Radcliffe/James Watkins film spin on The Woman in Black for example, certainly suffered while taking the leap. Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s self-penned reworking of their show Ghost Stories however, shows a darn sight more ingenuity, even if it does suffer a couple of the same pratfalls.

This much wackier film version certainly shakes up quite a lot of the play’s bigger moments for one thing. Although it does maintain the central plot: a sceptical professor (Nyman himself) investigating a triad of unexplained hauntings. To say even so much as a word or phrase more would be close to approaching spoiler territory, but it seems safe to say that everyone, already-anointed fans of the show and horror aficionados included, will find plenty to jump out of their skin at here.

The genuinely creepy undertones that both Nyman and Dyson seem to take with them wherever they go, are out again and in full-force. British horror is, and always has been, very much alive and kicking, but it hasn’t been this deeply unsettling in many years. Even just as an exercise in tension building, Ghost Stories totally thrives.

There are issues. A framing device swallows a great deal of the narrative and a heap of the short-term pay offs don’t hit home quite as hard as they could, but the real terror here is not only in the build (one thing the pair certainly don’t seem to wobble on), but the lingering aftershocks. It really is a seriously uneasy watch, and one that crawls even deeper under your skin the longer you spend thinking about it. It might be sold on jump scares to begin with, but the real dark heart of Ghost Stories is something significantly more primordial.

Throw in a frenzied cast of Britain’s finest: comedian-turned-genre-chameleon Paul Whitehouse, Black Mirror’s grimiest stand-out star Alex Lawther, and the ever-adaptable local hero that is Martin Freeman, and Nyman and Dyson seem to be very much onto a winner here. And it says even more about the film they’ve created that I’m having to try excruciatingly hard to not go any further.

Going in blind to this one not only comes highly recommended, it’s frankly essential. Ghost Stories is a film that’ll live and die by its surprises, and despite the straight-up title, trust me when I say that there are many, many of them. So let’s just leave it at this: fans of the spooky and deranged will have an absolute ball here, and everyone else will be suffering the fallout for many days to come afterwards.

The sharpiest, slimiest and yes, we might as well say it, downright scariest Brit horror this side of Kill List.

Ghost Stories was screened as part of the 61st BFI London Film Festival and will be released in the UK in 2018.

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