by Patrick Bromley
Ghost Stories, a new anthology (sort of) based on the successful stage play by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, is the kind of horror movie that doesn't get made much anymore. It's austere in that very British way, sure, but not trying to distance itself from the genre the way some modern day Hammer wannabes like Winchester might. Ghost Stories doesn't want to be Hammer. It wants to be Amicus. At this, it is mostly successful. There's an air of class to the film, but it's not afraid to get weird and pulpy the way the old Amicus movies would be. More than anything, Ghost Stories wants to be really, really scary. As great a place as horror has been in recent years for all the ways it bends the genre and uses it to explore other ideas, it's actually sort of rare to find one that commits this hard to just being scary.
While not officially an anthology film, the structure of Ghost Stories pretty closely mirrors the omnibus movies coming out of the UK in the 1970s. It's an effective approach for the movie, which isn't just about belief but about the nature of storytelling itself. Even more than in most anthologies, though, there is a sameness to the three tales in Ghost Stories, both in their construction and in their payoff: lone white man wanders around a quiet location until he comes face to face with the spirit of something he fears most, each time informed by something we know about that character. One or two loud but effective jump scares. Repeat. Nyman and Dyson even choose to end each of the three "ghost stories" the exact same way, cutting away right at the point of contact. The reasoning behind some of these choices and the way the individual stories connect together is very deliberate and becomes clearer as the movie progresses, none of which can be discussed without major spoilers and so won't be done here.
Two-thirds of it is a movie I really like, though, and that shouldn't be discounted, especially when I've seen stuff recently of which I liked no thirds. I can't say enough good things about the score by Haim Frank Ilfman, which is beautiful and haunting and perfectly sets the mood for the movie I so want Ghost Stories to be. The scares are executed well, and some of the ghost/creature designs are very cool. Because the movie is based on a stage play in which a number of practical effects were performed live, there's a magic-trick feel to a number of moments that are more thrilling than any CG-created bullshit in this or any other movie. Modern effects are rarely about people pulling something off. It's fun to see people pull something off. Ghost Stories is able to pull off some cool things.
Ghost Stories is now playing limited release.