(After a successful festival run, Directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories is in select theaters now.)
An example of brilliantly realized atmospherics that works like an evil charm until its disappointingly pedestrian conclusion, Ghost Stories chills the spine like a good spectral thriller should, and then, quite suddenly, doesn’t. Directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, making their theatrical-feature debut, demonstrate delightfully eerie slight of hand and marvelous mise-en-scène, aided by a fine cast headlined by Nyman (The Glass Man), himself, with terrific supporting work from the likes of Martin Freeman (Animals) and Alex Lawther (Departure). Almost flawlessly constructed, it needs but a better ending to be truly perfect.
Nyman plays “Professor” (of what, we’re not quite sure) Goodman, a professional debunker of the supernatural, whose claim to fame involves interrupting séances and other hauntings with camera in tow, then broadcasting the reveal on his television program. Through quick flashbacks, we learn that he is the son of a devout Jew, whose father’s strict spirituality has given him a lifelong distaste for religious mysticism, and anything even closely associated with it. When his long-disappeared idol, a certain Charles Cameron, resurfaces, depressed by the three unsolved ghost stories he could never explain, Goodman, ever the skeptic, takes them on. And so off we go, following him on his cynical journey into the superstitions of others.
It’s in the execution of each tale within the film that the directors genuinely shine. There is a moment involving a little girl and a group of mannequins that stood my hair on end. As certain visual leitmotifs begin to reoccur, over time, Dyson and Nyman up the dramatic ante in ways that fully engage the viewer. But then, towards the finale, the narrative foundation crumbles. Without divulging a major plot point, I’ll just say that I never appreciate being told, in the final moments of a story, that the things in which I had invested, emotionally, matter less than I was led to believe. Although perhaps that’s the idea, and the joke’s on me: “Be careful of what you believe in,” says Nyman’s Goodman in the opening. You got me.
– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)