Based on the best-selling show that ran in the West End 2010-2015, Ghost Stories is ostensibly a documentary where Professor of Parapsychology Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) investigates three terrifying “ghost” stories that appear to have no other explanation. However, during the investigation, things get weirder and weirder for Goodman, as we learn more about his childhood, and begin to realise that Goodman may not be in charge of his documentary at all.
Where the film excels the stage production is in the acting. Nyman, co-writer and director of the original with Jeremy Dyson (and original cast member) is able to offer a quieter, far more haunting and vulnerable portrayal on screen. Martin Freeman lends star quality as the important role of repulsive businessman Mike Priddle. Paul Whitehouse, known for comedy, gives an emotional monologue on the helplessness of having a daughter with “locked-in” syndrome. Alex Lawther’s mentally disturbed teenager Simon Rifkind is truly unsettling.
The film creates an extremely disconcerting atmosphere where we know that something is “off” from the beginning. However, some of the jump scares fall flat without the magic of live theatre. The original stage play is presented as a lecture to the audience, and this framing device is used throughout, particularly in regard to the “Safety Curtain”. In the film of course there is none of this, and hardly any references to the documentary either. By the time Goodman calls “Cut” towards the end, we’ve forgotten that it’s supposed to be a documentary at all.
On the other hand, the script and form of the film is completely different to the original stage show, and must be taken on its own terms. Horror nostalgia abounds, along with dark and disturbing themes that linger with you long after you leave the cinema. Despite elements of (carefully observed) pastiche, this is an impressive, original addition to independent British horror.
Ghost Stories had limited screenings at film festivals in 2017. Now out in cinemas everywhere.