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