From the Archives: Ghost Stories review

From the Archives: Ghost Stories review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

Based on a stage play of the same name, Ghost Stories makes a valiant attempt at tinkering with the anthology horror format by connecting each tale to a wraparound narrative that ISN’T just somebody telling stories around a campfire (or in the case of Tales From the Darkside, an oven). Instead we meet Professor Goodman (co-writer/director Andy Nyman), a marginally popular television skeptic who, after a childhood marred by religion-based closed-mindedness, has devoted himself to ending the scourge of unprovable belief.

He’s following in the footsteps of his hero, Charles Cameron, a prominent skeptic who has fallen off the grid and is presumed missing. One day, Goodman gets an invite from Cameron, who is sick and living out his reclusive final days in a mobile home. Cameron provides three case files to Goodman, indicating that this trio of supernatural occurrences are the only ones that he couldn’t explain through logical means. Goodman, enthused by this call to action decides to visit the claimants of each spooky story to see what he can find.

A night watchman is haunted by to ghost of a young woman. A distraught young man encounters a creature on a desolate road. A wealthy widower deals with poltergeists in the aftermath of his wife’s passing. Real basic stuff, but each tale is effective in its own right despite building to one of the most groan-inducing endings I’ve ever seen (more on that in a bit).

The stories are reenacted to very spooky effect as the victims explain what they saw to Goodman. Each vignette calls upon a handful of classic scare tactics ripped from multiple sub-genres of horror, most notably the Hammer pictures, as well as from entries in the recent wave of Euro-horror (of which Ghost Stories is most certainly a welcome addition) such as The Ritual or Under the Skin. Nyman and co-writer/director Jeremy Dyson seem to be having fun experimenting with such styles, given that their source material, as I understand it, mostly just dictates the scares. In this way, Ghost Stories feels a lot more like a movie than so many stage-to-screen adaptations tend to manage. In fact, had I not known beforehand, I’d have happily assumed it was an original script.

Within each tale there are a few dangling threads which, in the moment, will surely feel to some like missed opportunities. The more hopeful/forgiving amongst us will be inclined to give these moments the benefit of the doubt, especially given that the promise of the wraparound story —  things WILL be explained — is pretty explicit. Unfortunately, the end of the film, which does indeed make an attempt at tying the loose ends and providing deeper meaning to our questions, falls flat on its face in a way that almost has to be seen to be believed. The final act is such a lame copout (and one which has been done many, many times before) that it has the potential to ruin the entire movie which came before it. It’s a shame too, because overall, this is a solid, creepy fright flick. As much as I hate it when viewers can’t forgive a wonky ending of an otherwise great film, I carry no desire to go to bat for Ghost Stories on that front. Sure, it’s a pretty good movie, but if the ending makes you hate it, you aren’t wrong.

Nyman and Dyson do, however, have my attention. I look forward to whatever comes next, and if the opportunity ever arises, I would like to see Ghost Stories on stage.

Ghost Stories opens in Philly theaters today.

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