There was a time when anthologies ruled British horror. Coming off of the Hammer hey day’s of the early 1960’s, the production company Amicus began to fill the market with horror anthologies; filled with ghostly spooks and darkly ironic twists. Films like ASYLUM, VAULT OF HORRORS, and the original TALES FROM THE CRYPT helped establish short form British horror and gave horror fans their scares with a British sensibility. This genre lives on in GHOST STORIES.

Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman have been able to rekindle some of that old British charm, while giving out a fair amount of scares, with their film GHOST STORIES. GHOST STORIES is in the same vein as those old Amicus films; 3 smaller vignette, pulled together by an interweaving wraparound story.

We follow Professor Goodman (played by Nyman), a paranormal debunker who travels around the United Kingdom, exposing false mediums and revealing false haunting claims. He is good at what he does, and he has become cocky in his abilities. That all comes crashing down when his former idol, Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrnes), long thought dead, reemerges to give Goodman 3 cases he couldn’t crack, his GHOST STORIES.

Our 3 Ghastly Ghost Stories

From these files, we have our three vignettes. The first one follows Tony (Paul Whitehouse), a former night watchman who had a terrifying encounter in an abandoned hospital. Next, neurotic teenager Simon (Alex Lawther, played with an unsettling anxious energy) who ran down something demonic one night.

Finally, the last vignette follows posh businessman Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman, showing both his most charismatic and sinister sides here), who may be dealing with a malevolent force in his new home.

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I call these segments vignette because that is all they amount to. Rather than an anthology like CREEPSHOW, GHOST STORIES presents its segments in small 10 minutes slices. None of them really gain any life of their own and are just there to service the main story. For fans of anthologies, it may be a little of a let down in that department.

But each story does lend itself to some effective scares. There is nothing groundbreaking here, as most of the scares are of the jump variety. But, there are effective effects work that help add dimensions to these astral spooks.

A Ghostly 3rd Act

GHOST STORIES is an adaption of a popular stage play, also written and performed by Dyson and Nyman. The script’s been overhauled for its cinematic presentation, but there is still a clear connection back to its theatrical roots. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the 3rd act.

Without delving into any spoilers, the film takes a sharp left turn in the 3rd. While helping add some life to a film that began to feel formulaic, it suffers from plot development issues. Seemingly new plot lines appear and are set up to be the most important piece of the narrative. Instead, it feels unearned and doesn’t follow the narrative that followed it.

Ghost Stories

This plot development issue is common in anthologies. With so many different stories, tone inconsistency can make a film feel fractured. GHOST STORIES suffers from this, as each vignette has a different tone. The 3rd act then veers off into a completely new direction, both structurally and tonally. It is an interesting development but feels rushed in its attempt to establish backstory in the back half.

A Ghoulish Cast

GHOST STORIES wears its British ancestry on its sleeve. The film is overflowing with dry British wit. Nyman is able to keep a strong current of levity throughout the film, using his precise comedic timing. An exasperated look or shocked stance help keep the proceedings light, even when a dark subject matter is explored.

Martin Freeman is able to fully encapsulates the classic British sensibility. He is able to change from charming and filled with dry wit, to a menacing figure with only a head tilt. He is clearly hamming it up throughout the film, using his spare time between Marvel films to steal the show out from under everyone else.

Ghost Stories
Martin Freeman has never been more insidious.

That isn’t to say he’s the only bright spot here. Alex Lawther is a star in the making. After his turn on END OF THE F***ING WORLD and an especially dark episode of BLACK MIRROR, Lawther has established himself as the go-to neurotic teenager. It’s no different here, where he plays an unreliable narrator to one of our tales, his sweaty anxiety permeating through the screen.

A Grim Conclusion

Overall, GHOST STORIES is a serviceable horror film. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does rekindle a subgenre that had gone to the wayside several decades earlier. At times the film is both funny and scary, but there is some cinematic dissonance at times because of this. For fans of horror, GHOST STORIES is the perfect film for a quiet weekday night, where a few laughs and jumps will help close out your evening, without worrying about it overstaying its welcome into the dark midnight hours.

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GHOST STORIES will be released later this year through IFC Midnight.

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