Directors: Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman
Screenwriters: Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, based on their eponymous play.
Runtime: 98 mins.
Australian release date: 25 October 2018
Previewed at: Dendy Newtown, Sydney, on 8 October 2018.
The film version of Ghost Stories, based on the widely-known British play of the same name, comes from the work’s originators, Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, and this familiarity with the material probably explains why the transition from stage to screen has been done so successfully, belying its theatrical origins. “We wanted to write a screenplay in our own time and pace in order to do it proper justice. The show took the language of film and put it on stage. Reverse engineering that process and letting go of certain theatrical conceits to ensure the movie transfer worked equally well cinematically was of paramount importance,” says Andy Nyman, who keen-eyed viewers will recognise from the cult TV series The League of Gentlemen. Incidentally, if the title is more than a little familiar, it’s because the play toured Australia in 2015, beginning it’s ‘down under’ run at the Sydney Opera House before winding up in Perth some 12 months later.
In a nod to the British ‘60s and ‘70s horror movies of Amicus Productions, the plot is a portmanteau divided into three stories, Tony, Simon and Mike, plus the overarching one tying them all together. Philip Goodman (Nyman) is a television host and writer who specialises in debunking paranormal events. He is convinced that here is always a rational explanation for these occurrences. One day he is contacted by a famed, and long retired, paranormal investigator who states that there were three incidents that he was never able to explain and he asks Goodman to look into them. The first involved a security guard, Tony (Paul Whitehouse), working at a disused asylum who was haunted by visions of a young girl; the second, a teenager, Simon (Alex Lawther), who was spooked by something that happened when his car broke down in the woods; and the third is about Mike (Martin Freeman), a businessman who had a ghostly visitation while his wife was in childbirth. Goodman duly sets off to look into these cases but, of course, finds that there is more to them than meets the eye.
The premise of the script of Ghost Stories is based on a phrase that crops up in the text, viz. “the brain sees what it wants to see,” and this maxim lies at the heart of the on-screen action. Keep it mind when you watch the film because things that appear minor as the three tales unfold, like a plastic bag blowing in the breeze, become more pertinent when the link between the stories becomes clear. This is not surprising when you consider that Andy Nyman has done a lot of work in recent years writing for the UK illusionist Derren Brown, who specialises in sleight-of-hand magic tricks involving suggestion and misdirection. Nyman’s co-creator, Jeremy Dyson is another alumnus of The League of Gentlemen, so off-beat, disturbing substance matter is grist for his mill, too. The twist in their plot, when it comes, is truly unsettling. Ghost Stories is genuinely scary, highly original, fun - the creepiest British horror film in years.