Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - KIM New­man Verdict Pow­er­ful, dis­turb­ing and in­tense view­ing, this isn’t go­ing to be ev­ery­one’s cup of tea — but tom Meeten is a likely break­out Bri­tish char­ac­ter star and gareth tun­ley is an am­bi­tious, ob­vi­ously tal­ented film­maker.

di­rec­tor Gareth Tun­ley cast Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe, Ru­fus Jones, Paul Kaye, Ni­amh Cu­sack

Plot In­ves­ti­gat­ing a dou­ble mur­der, de­tec­tive Chris (Meeten) takes ad­vice from pro­filer Kath­leen (Lowe) about feign­ing men­tal ill­ness. Pos­ing as a pa­tient of psy­chi­a­trist Helen (Cu­sack), Chris be­gins to won­der if his cover story is ac­tu­ally his real life.

IN BRI­TISH HOR­ROR cinema, The Ghoul is a peren­nial ti­tle — a Boris Karloff film from 1933 and a Peter Cush­ing film from 1975 — and wri­ter­di­rec­tor Gareth Tun­ley know­ingly ap­pro­pri­ates it for an ex­er­cise in frag­mented Lon­don noir. This The Ghoul be­gins as a su­per­nat­u­rally tinged de­tec­tive story then opens out — or closes in — to be­come a study of de­pres­sion and para­noia. It’s a film in which ev­ery­thing is pro­vi­sional, and the pro­gresses of sev­eral strains of plot — un­der­cover po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, so­cial-re­al­ist mis­ery, psy­chother­apy ses­sions — func­tion as beats in some sort of oc­cult rit­ual.

Cop Chris (Meeten) turns up at the site of a dou­ble mur­der, where the killer seems to have been spooked by his vic­tims’ abil­ity to stay up­right after they’ve been shot. His only lead is Coul­son (Jones), a ‘ghoul’ who loi­ters around crime scenes. Aided by cop part­ner Jim (Dan Skin­ner) and pro­filer Kath­leen (Lowe), Chris goes un­der­cover as a de­pressed, un­em­ployed loser to gain ac­cess to the files of Coul­son’s am­bigu­ous ther­a­pist Helen Fisher (Cu­sack). Then, re­al­ity seems to shift with the pos­si­bil­ity that the pro­tag­o­nist only fan­ta­sises he’s a cop on a case. In this re­al­ity, Kath­leen is Jim’s girl­friend and Chris is creep­ily hung up on her. But is this the cover story — and the more far-fetched ver­sion the truth? Fisher refers Chris to Mor­land (Ge­of­frey Mc­givern), a ge­nially sin­is­ter an­a­lyst (whose name echoes the char­ac­ter Karloff played in the 1933 The Ghoul) who is also treating the real Coul­son (if there is a real Coul­son) and talks about alchemy, maths, Möbius strips, para­dox­i­cal bot­tles and se­cret sig­ils. In ei­ther or both of his iden­ti­ties, Chris strikes up an ac­quain­tance with the manic Coul­son, seems to draw Kath­leen to him with a magic rit­ual, names his de­pres­sion ‘the Ghoul’ and is op­pressed by the drab con­crete city.

The pro­tag­o­nist’s sin­gle-room flat is espe­cially char­ac­ter­less and op­pres­sive, but this makes the river­side, streets and con­sult­ing rooms vis­ited by Chris all threat­en­ingly bleak. In one scene at a glum party, Paul Kaye de­liv­ers a so­lil­o­quy anec­dote about petty crime and the power of prayer which is ei­ther a dis­trac­tion or the meat of the movie. Ev­ery­one is good —Mc­givern gets man of the match as the most en­ter­tain­ing ec­cen­tric and you know how out of whack the world is if Alice Lowe is play­ing the most nor­mal char­ac­ter. But this is such an in­te­rior, solip­sis­tic film that only the in­tense, im­pres­sive Meeten gets to play a char­ac­ter with real depth. Both ver­sions of Chris have the same essence, while ev­ery­one else changes their act de­pend­ing on how para­noid the view­point char­ac­ter is about them.

Di­rec­tor Gareth Tun­ley is also an ac­tor, and a reg­u­lar in films by ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Ben Wheat­ley. The Ghoul fits into a fringe Bri­tish cinema of mis­er­ab­list so­cial-re­al­ism psy­chohor­ror which has been quite ac­tive lately, for reasons ev­i­dent to any­one who’s looked at a news­pa­per in the last few years. It re­lates a lit­tle to Kill List (in which Tun­ley plays the priest) but also slots com­fort­ably in with a run of Brit-noir pic­tures with su­per­nat­u­ral twists (The Glass Man, A Dark Song, Hyena, The Mes­sen­ger, The Devil’s Busi­ness). There’s a state-of-the-na­tion as­pect to these sto­ries of psy­cho­log­i­cal iso­la­tion, and minds crack­ing as cities de­cay and so­cial ties are sun­dered — the hor­ror film off­shoots of Bro­ken Bri­tain or Brexit.

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