Have you ever wanted to be scared by one of those old spook houses before they went out of fashion?
Ghost Stories will remind you of one of the rides you went on at Luna Park or else; there’s some genuine shocks, a colourful cast of dedicated performers to jump out and frighten you and a few anticipatory moments where your heart will skip a beat. Ill-resisting the temptation to let it’s three classically horror-ridden spookers subsist on their own, laxly tying it all together proves more fateful than so much else that transpires.
Professional hoax-buster Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman), presented with three cases that defy explanation, proceeds to be extolled their horrors in varied flashbacks. The first instalment is the most genuinely shocking that like the best parts of this film plays on our base, instinctive fears, in this case that of the dark and being alone. Inducing more seat-squirming than all else, a final hurdle for the haunted, playing on a classic trope of horror, will likely result in as many reacting with fear as with a conversely habitual scare-ridden laughter, signalling a tonal shift that sustains throughout the second and third stories.
Humour being near as endemic a reaction to horror as a scream or shout in so far as the dynamics intrinsic to comedy feature fairly strongly in heavier fare, the resulting tone in the latter tales, embracing this staple of horror in scripting and style, is too largely a consequence of casting talented comedic actors Martin Freeman and Alex Lawther. Lawther, a supremely unsettling performer, skates the thin line between outlandish and consuming horror in an oft-seen scenario where his pesky car breaks down in the middle of nowhere at the worst possible time. Freeman, contending with a poltergeist, has the weakest, hurried and most abruptly perfunctory story absent the sustained thrills so evident in the earlier iterations.
Managing glimpses into the fantastical ala The Woman in Black, Ghost Stories loses much of it’s mystique and appeal when it takes a stylistic about-turn mid-third act to further explore the unsettling demons all too familiar to us; doing so in an insouciant manner that largely negates and even trivialises the horror to which we’ve hitherto been endeared. Posing at it’s beginning enthralling questions which attempt to conflate our belief in the unknown with more commonly accepted systems of religious belief, the thematic and actual denouement goes little way if at all to addressing or furthering the fascinating premises Ghost Stories originally expounded.
The ending, tonally, thematically and even dramatically detached from much else that preceded it and that was otherwise involving, does little justice to a film where the promised scares come thick and fast but not nearly so often as you might like.
Ghost Stories screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival