The Ghoul

Dir Gareth Tun­ley, UK 2017 On UK re­lease from 4 Au­gust

Fortean Times - - Reviews / Films - Daniel King

Hav­ing trav­elled down to Lon­don from the north of Eng­land, homi­cide de­tec­tive Chris (Tom Meeten) is briefed by a col­league at a house where a dou­ble mur­der has oc­curred. Noth­ing un­usual about that – ex­cept both vic­tims con­tin­ued to move to­wards their as­sailant even af­ter they had been shot in the head. The only sus­pect is an es­tate agent who is re­ceiv­ing psy­chi­atric care. Chris goes un­der­cover at the same psy­chother­a­pist’s to try to steal a glance at the man’s notes in the hope of track­ing him down. How­ever, as Chris at­tends ses­sion af­ter ses­sion, he starts to ques­tion his own life – what he is do­ing, why is he do­ing it – and even who he is.

There’s a great con­ceit at the core of The Ghoul: is our hero the man he imag­ines him­self to be or the man whose iden­tity he is try­ing to for­get? It’s a vari­a­tion on a clas­sic theme – iden­tity cri­sis – which is present in works as di­verse as Ham­let and Philip K Dick’s A Scan­ner Darkly. In the for­mer, Shake­speare asks us to con­sider whether Ham­let is mad with grief, or merely pre­tend­ing, or whether he goes mad as a re­sult of pre­tend­ing to be so. In Dick’s book, un­der­cover nar­cotics de­tec­tive Bob Arc­tor finds him­self de­vel­op­ing a split per­son­al­ity as a re­sult of the mind-bend­ing na­ture of his work.

When his psy­chother­a­pist is taken ill, Chris is ad­vised to see Pro­fes­sor Mor­land (the won­der­fully creepy Geoffrey McGivern). Mor­land is a quite dif­fer­ent type of shrink: matey, chatty and with a dis­con­cert­ingly en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of the oc­cult. They take walks to­gether in the woods where Mor­land de­lights in point­ing out the cos­mic sig­nif­i­cance of the lo­ca­tions they visit. But, as you might have guessed, Mor­land is not all that he seems.

This part of the film is where it shifts from be­ing a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller into some­thing else al­to­gether. The oc­cult and mytho­log­i­cal ref­er­ences take it from the in­ter­est­ing but fa­mil­iar into the realms of the deeply mys­te­ri­ous. The fore­bod­ing sense of be­ing un­der threat from an­cient and un­know­able forces re­minded me of the ex­cel­lent first sea­son of the US crime drama True De­tec­tive – and praise doesn’t come much higher than that from me.

There are flaws, of course, but they are mi­nor. The fi­nal 20-odd min­utes are some­thing of an an­ti­cli­max, but hav­ing said that the film does man­age to sus­tain its un­set­tling tone to the end. Over­all, this is an in­trigu­ing drama with a ter­rific cen­tral idea and which isn’t con­tent to take up res­i­dence in any par­tic­u­lar genre. Rather like ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Ben Wheat­ley’s Kill List, it starts off in one di­rec­tion only to wrong-foot the viewer and sub­tly move off in an­other. Not only that but it does so in a way which, de­spite the fan­tas­tic and bizarre sub­ject mat­ter, does in a way which keeps the whole en­ter­prise grounded in a recog­nis­able and yet dis­turbed re­al­ity. Rec­om­mended.

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