Ghost Stories (2017)

A great film. Really, really good. One of the best ghost stories I can remember. I see ghost stories as different from horror. There’s a different air to them really when they’re done well. Horror is a genre, ghost stories are a plot device and a method of utilising that genre (much like superheroes). Of course, because ghosts are heavily linked to death they are often horror movies. But really they can be thrillers, romance, animated kids film, buddy cop, anything really. I mean, I guess technically this is a horror, but I don’t count it as one. Horror is visceral, this is more, I don’t know, chilling, I guess is the right word. You’re not necessarily scared, but there’s a chill that permeates every core of your being throughout, the feeling that everything isn’t quite “right”. This is the closest I’ve felt to reading a scary book, the feeling of being completely trapped in that world and unable to put it down. It genuinely reminded me of reading ghost stories in the car on the way back from my grandparents back in the day.  That’s the kind of atmosphere this film has, an almost nostalgic feel, but at the same time being completely modern. It’s hard to explain, but it just has the feeling of reading a ghost story by torchlight under the bed covers in the freezing cold. That feeling of terror, knowing that you shouldn’t continue with the story but you absolutely have to. That’s down to both quality directing (although the make-up could have been better. The effects generally were really good, but the practical make-up could have been better), and the writing. But none of this would matter if it wasn’t for the performances.

The performances in this are great. Not a single weak link. Alex Lawther continues being a sadly undiscovered gem of British talent, Andy Nyman is a confident lead who plays his character perfectly, and Martin Freeman is, well, he was Martin Freeman. I was surprised by Paul Whitehouse though. I’m mainly familiar with him through his comedy work, but his performance in this was a true revelation. He plays him as the typical “Jack the lad” type, full of macho bravado, who is obviously scared shitless, trying to maintain his masculinity whilst terror haunts his brain. It brings to mind a soldier coming to terms with seeing a massacre. Honestly, not the best performance I’ve seen this year, but without a doubt one of the most impressive.

I think part of my love for this film is down to the narrative structure they use. Anthology films are deeply underappreciated, when they’re done right they provide an experience like no other. They allow you to not only tell the stories themselves, but a singular story that runs throughout the thread of the rest of them, it allows the audience to spot connecting themes and events, even things like colours repeating, and seeing how they all link together. When they’re done well the ending makes you think “that was GENIUS!”, but when they’re done badly it can make you feel like you’ve wasted your time.

For this? It works. The connections are sometimes subtle, sometimes not. But when you get to the end and see the cause and how it all links together you’re impressed. The ending (which I won’t spoil here) improves the entire film. Ordinarily, the ending they give here would be a massive let down, but here it’s SO well set up that you love it. It’s given enough hints so that it wasn’t immediately obvious, but once you know you realise it’s really the only way it could end. And it is one hell of an ending, reality completely breaks down into insanity and brilliance and magic and amazement and FUUUUCK just see this film. Then see it again to catch the foreshadowing.

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