David Strat­ton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

When you’ve seen as many movies as I have, you don’t of­ten come across one that af­fords gen­uine sur­prises, yet the Bri­tish Ghost Sto­ries not only con­tains quite a few un­ex­pected el­e­ments, but also suc­ceeds in a tri­umphant, although de­cid­edly low-key, fash­ion in the sus­pense depart­ment.

Also a sur­prise is the fact that this very cin­e­matic movie has its ori­gins on the stage; it’s an adap­ta­tion of a play by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Ny­man, who also wrote and di­rected the film, with Ny­man cast in the lead­ing role as pro­fes­sional scep­tic Philip Good­man, who — af­ter be­ing raised by his strict Jewish fa­ther — has be­come a prom­i­nent de­bunker of phony medi­ums in a TV show ti­tled Psy­chic Cheats.

Af­ter the open­ing scenes es­tab­lish Good­man’s back­ground and cre­den­tials, Ghost Sto­ries as­sumes the struc­ture of the on­ce­pop­u­lar port­man­teau hor­ror film, of which the cel­e­brated Eal­ing clas­sic, Dead of Night (1945), is the most fa­mous ex­am­ple.

Good­man re­ceives a mes­sage from Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrne), an­other well­known scep­tic, who has been miss­ing for a con­sid­er­able time. At their meet­ing, Cameron tells Good­man he has re­cently en­coun­tered three in­stances of psy­chic phe­nom­ena that might, in fact, be true — and he begs Good­man to in­ves­ti­gate.

The first in­volves a night­watch­man (Paul White­house) who has ter­ri­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ences in the derelict for­mer in­sane asy­lum he’s been hired to guard. Then there’s Si­mon (Alex Lawther), a teenager who is driv­ing his fa­ther’s car at night through a for­est when he breaks down — and has a chilling en­counter with Some­thing Wicked. Fi­nally there’s the case of Prid­dle (Martin Free­man), a busi­ness­man who has built a grand house on the Scot­tish moors — a house where some­thing hor­ri­ble hap­pened the night his wife gave birth.

These sto­ries are chilling enough, but the fram­ing story also con­tains more than its share of twists and turns and a fi­nal rev­e­la­tion that was, for me, com­pletely un­ex­pected.

Ghost Sto­ries may not ap­peal to a younger gen­er­a­tion of film­go­ers who like their hor­ror to be un­sub­tle and noisy. This is a low-tech af­fair, and all the more in­ter­est­ing for it. You never know quite where it’s go­ing, but it doesn’t let up for a mo­ment. All the cast mem­bers are ex­cel­lent, with Ny­man par­tic­u­larly good as the trou­bled Good­man. One Less God and Book Week are two mod­estly bud­geted Aus­tralian films that have one thing in com­mon — they were both filmed prin- Ghost Sto­ries (M) Limited na­tional re­lease One Less God (MA15+) Limited stag­gered re­lease Book Week (Un­clas­si­fied) Limited re­lease Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (PG) Limited re­lease cipally in the Blue Moun­tains of NSW. Oth­er­wise they couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. One Less God is the shock­ing story of the rad­i­cal Mus­lim ter­ror­ist at­tack on the Taj Ma­hal Ho­tel in Mum­bai in 2008, when 166 peo­ple were killed, while Book Week is a com­edy about the misadventures of a school­teacher who is hop­ing to get his book pub­lished.

Of the two, the for­mer is man­i­festly more am­bi­tious. There has al­ready been an ex­cel­lent French film about those hor­rific events in Mum­bai ( Taj Ma­hal, Ni­co­las Saada, 2015) and we’re soon to see Ho­tel Mum­bai, first-time Aus­tralian di­rec­tor An­thony Maras’s take on the at­tack, which will en­joy far wider dis­trib-

Martin Free­man in left; a scene from be­low

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