Adapted from the stage play of the same name, Ghost Stories is a horror anthology starring Andy Nyman as Professor Phillip Goodman. Goodman is a skeptic whose idol Charles Cameron has him investigate three supposedly real supernatural stories. Can Goodman solve the cases or is he caught up in something he has never experienced?
Ghost Stories gets off to an amazing start. Goodman and the crew of his show Psychic Cheats attend a live psychic reading in the hopes of debunking it. The scene is very powerful and the emotional range is surprising. The opening is funny, sad, and scary. It sets an exciting tone that unfortunately the rest of the movie is unable to live up to.
The inherent problem with anthologies is they invite comparison within themselves. The structure of these movies makes the individual parts easier to scrutinize. Ghost Stories is not immune to this problem since the first two cases have great atmosphere. Obviously, there are scares, but they are also tense and injected with humor.
The third case does not hold up as well. It moves at a slow pace that is awkward and lazy. Ghost Stories also becomes less subtle in tying together its overall story arc. Whereas the first two installments have the audience asking themselves if there is a connection, the third story outright tells you there is. The movie begins to resort to jump scares that belies the inspiration it has taken from classic British horror movies.
Pacing can be difficult in an anthology, but Ghost Stories does a good job. Where it fails is its unnatural flow. Like most movies of the sub-genre, the movie is split into its individual stories and the overarching narrative. The problem is, the endings are unsatisfying. These are not open-ended conclusions that make the audience wonder what just happened, the endings make you ask, “Is that it?” There is a definite lack of closure among all three stories.
The main story itself has the weakest ending. When the third story beings to blend into the actual movie, Ghost Stories starts to fly off the rails. The climax is cluttered and is an odd mixture of arthouse, psychological thriller, and generic horror movie scares culminating in the most clichéd and unpopular ending possible. Unfortunately, this poor ending concludes the entire movie.
The most disappointing thing about Ghost Stories is that it does so much right. The lighting and settings harken back to Hammer films. When the movie holds back on in your face scares, it does an excellent job of building tension. For example, there are numerous moments in the movie when the audience sees an ominous figure looming in the background. As the camera gets closer, the audience sees them for what they are. The revelation that they tend to be normal everyday objects adds to the skeptical theme of the movie. Ghost Stories is not just good at times, it is exceptional.
Ghost Stories is an odd horror movie. It eschews traditional scares and goes for a more subtle and psychological terror. When it focuses on its inspirations, it is entertaining and riveting. Unfortunately, it ends up being a great idea with many flaws.
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