“The brain sees what it wants to see.”
And with those defining words, begins Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s Ghost Stories (2017), adapted from their equally mind-bending 2010 stage play. Unlike most other ghost-related horror movies, which favour cheap jump scares over plot, this film interrogates the psychological mindset behind paranormal sightings and our ultimate perception of reality.
Professor Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) is a veteran skeptic who has dedicated his life to debunking the paranormal. Out of the blue, he is contacted by his reclusive academic idol, Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrne), who lambasts him for his dismissive attitude towards the unknown and challenges him to solve three paranormal cases that have eluded him. These include that of Tony (Paul Whitehouse), a night security guard who has a life-changing encounter with the ghostly, Simon (Alex Lawther, of Netflix’s End of the F***king World fame) a nervy teenager whose car collides with something not of this world on a lonely country road and Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman) a wealthy, expectant father whose case is the most soul-shattering of the three. All the while there are subtle hints in the background which imply a larger story, one that entails Philip and the other three protagonists as he investigates each individual case.
Ghost Stories is a stylish throwback to classic British horror in the vein of Don’t Look Now (1973) and The Innocents (1961). It’s a rare beast of a film, both terrifying and thought- provoking. The three stories are masterfully woven into the building main narrative, but are so entertaining on their own that they could have been fleshed out further into their own horror films. But beneath its matryoshka layering of horror and psychology, the film is ultimately a story about regret and how it entraps us within a single-minded perspective of the world, blind to what lingers just beyond our periphery until it’s far too late. Like the various phantoms it features, Ghost Stories will haunt your mind long after the end credits have started to roll.