Supernatural vs Rational in a mind-bending horror anthology. Ghost Stories – movie review

One of the horror movies I’ve been the most excited about lately was Ghost Stories, a British horror anthology (kind of) starring Martin Freeman among the others.

I finally got the chance to watch it during a screening in Switzerland and I have loads to say about it – so much, in fact, that I have included a spoiler section (GHOST STORIES – EXPLAINED) at the end of my review.

Ghost Stories 1.jpgFor now, let’s keep this review spoiler-free and let’s start from the plot, which is quite interesting onto its own. The story(-ies) centres around Professor Phillip Goodman, the host and main protagonist of a TV show that debunks hoaxes connected to the supernatural. Goodman spent his life trying to prove that ghosts and spirits don’t exist, inspired by another paranormal investigator who did Goodman’s same job in the past. Ironically, that man has now mysteriously disappeared, until one day he gets in contact with our protagonist and hands him three files containing details of three cases of inexplicable ‘hauntings’. Will Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman) be able to give a rational explanation to them or the supernatural does indeed exist? And what if Goodman himself becomes integral part of these ghost stories?

What I immediately loved about Ghost Stories was the movie’s structure: unlike most horror anthologies, here the wrap-around story is basically a complete film onto its own, with the other three segments being sort of flashbacks from the characters involved in the aforementioned files. This specific structure enhances another aspect that’s usually absent in anthology flick: the characters.

Ghost Stories 2.jpgBesides Goodman, who’s multi-faceted and very well portrayed, we have the three protagonists of the files: watchman Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse), college student Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther) and business man Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman). Everyone of them feels extremely genuine, they don’t look like characters from a movie but they seem to be real people. Matthews does a great job with his voice acting and mannerism and Martin Freeman, albeit riddled with Martin Freeman-esque facial twitches, brings his A-game to the project. However, Lawther as Simon Rifkind steals the show: the guy clearly has talent and, for instance, he would make for a great Joker (Hollywood producers, are you listening to me?). Here in Ghost Stories his performance ranges from frightening to psychotic to funny to heart-breaking… all in a space of a few minutes! Kudos to you, sir.

Check my final grade and continue reading below…


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Ghost Stories 3.jpgLawther’s talent shines even more if you consider that his story in the movie is probably the least compelling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite spooky (like everything else in the film), but it doesn’t have enough meat. On the contrary, the events that occurred to Matthews and Priddle are genuinely terrifying. Ghost Stories presents them in a very effective way, with only a couple of jump-scares that take you out of the story, due to the clever use of light and shadow. Most of the time you’re not really sure what you’re looking at, nevertheless you are well aware it’s something scary. Also, Ghost Stories doesn’t shy away from showing stuff in their full, frightening glory.

Violence and gore are – almost – nowhere to be found, yet this film doesn’t need them to have the audience on the edge of their seats. Great direction, combined with fantastic acting and an interesting story are everything a horror fan could ask for here.

One more thing that shouldn’t be overlooked: the comic relief. Ghost Stories is filled with subtle jokes typical of famous British humour and they all work. Unlike a film like Get Out, where the comedy is funny but very over-the-top, in this film the jokes might make you chuckle but they will never distract you from the overall uneasy atmosphere: they come as brief and unexpected moments that only make the viewing experience more entertaining.

As per flaws, which I kind of mentioned already, I thought the jump-scares were really out of place; the second file/story (Simon Rifkind’s one) is a bit lazy and childish; the makeup of one specific character – something I can’t tell you about without ruining the surprise – was rather poor and unconvincing.

Since I want to discuss the ending of Ghost Stories, my next paragraph – after my final grade – will feature spoilers. So watch the movie first and then come back here, so we can discuss the ending together.

Ghost Stories                       8.5/10

(it might become a 9/10 once I watched the movie again)

GHOST STORIES – ENDING EXPLAINED

The thing about Ghost Stories is that, besides all the great aspects mentioned before, the movie tries to go out with a bang: THE PLOT TWIST! So, during the last 20 minutes the film turns into a sort of surreal nightmare as the viewer learns Goodman is being paralysed and in a coma all along. The files he studied and the victims of those cases are actually a doctor (Freeman), a nurse (Lawther) and a cleaner (Whitehouse) who work in the hospital where Goodman is held.

Ghost Stories 4We also learn that Goodman has a troubled past, linked to the death of a retarded individual (partially caused by his lack of action). This event led him to attempt suicide – at what point in time, it’s never clearly explained – that failed, leaving the host in a perpetual conscious coma. Due to this condition, Goodman is repeatedly living in a vivid nightmares, where the personas he made up in his mind and his ghosts from the past (get it?) constantly haunt his never-ending miserable state.

It’s clear when the plot twist is revealed that the movie is not about whether the supernatural exists or not, more so Ghost Stories combines the idea of having skeletons in the closet with the rational but scary side of our brain which creates frightening imageries on certain conditions. The name of most of the characters (Priddle – Riddle, Goodman and Rifkind – kind person) just reflect the way Goodman sees himself and others.

The movie itself leads to this plot twist through hints that are spread throughout – during Goodman’s delusions we see things that are apparently unimportant but, in fact, bridge to the dramatic events that caused him to try and take his own life.

This unexpected turn in plot isn’t unjustified, since during the movie there are many hints to it – which makes the twist legit and underlines that Ghost Stories never cheats on the viewer. However, as opposed to being a plus, in my eyes it turns the film into a copy (only in regards to the ending) of the likes of Jacob’s Ladder (1990). Ghost Stories is a great piece of horror cinema and as such it didn’t need this sort of sensationalism to be effective: it had it all already. Nonetheless, I’m sure most viewers did genuinely love the twist, so I didn’t downgrade the movie for that.

What’s your opinion about the ending of Ghost Stories? And what did you think about the overall movie?

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