In the frenzy of film festivals, it’s unheard of to watch the same title twice. But the final act of Ghost Stories rattled me so hard that my dropped jaw and racing heart demanded a second spin with this sensational and scary ride.
Because I dare to mention the end of the film, some of you might snarl about spoilers. Don’t worry. You won’t guess Ghost Stories’ finale, posed in such a deliberate and dizzying manner that it’s a deranged delight. But if you’re super sensitive to spoilers, stop here. And just go see it.
Ghost Stories kicks off a solid setup. Skeptic and séance-debunker Phillip Goodman sets out to investigate three supposedly supernatural cases. This familiar premise allows co-writer/co-directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman to waste no time, and dive right into brewing character and mood. Nyman stars as Goodman and pulls us in with his everyman appeal and edge of cynicism. Their script delivers three thrilling vignettes of terror, each with dark shadows, foreshadowing, and creepy things that go bump in the night. In the first, a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) encounters horror in the bowels of a crumbling women’s asylum. The second presents a young man (Alex Lawther) who experiences a harrowing hit-and-run accident on a road that rips through the deep dark woods. The last features Martin Freeman as a fast-talking suit whose money cannot protect him from terror.
Each boasts a beloved horror trope, from haunted hospitals to stuff-flinging spirits, and creature feature fun. But just when you think this seeming anthology is about to be neatly tied up, Ghost Stories rips down your expectations with a turn at once jarring and utterly brilliant. I sat in awe, shivered in horror, and gasped in ghastly glee over this film’s final act. Better than putting to rest what seemed a solid but formulaic horror movie, it blows the damn thing wide open, then offers you first bite of its thudding, bloody heart.
I had to see it again. This time, Ghost Stories felt like a whole new movie, in the way Sixth Sense and Get Out do on second viewing. Details that I’d totally overlooked before sprung out at me. The performances went from neatly compelling to richly layered and cruelly clever. Every shot had deeper meaning, every line of dialogue greater purpose.
That this is Dyson and Nyman’s narrative feature debut is almost infuriating. They have made a masterful horror movie that both pays loving tribute to the genre—and its many forms—then pushes into something new and thrillingly original. Its script is sly and sophisticated. Its visuals are eerie and enigmatic, then elegantly crafted. And its cast knits this twisted world of spirits, suspicion and secrets into a tense, terrifying, and outright terrific journey. Even now, my mind lingers on certain images, entranced, attracted, and haunted. I want to watch it again. Right now.
Ghost Stories made its North American premiere at the 2018 SXSW Conference. It opens in select theaters on April 20th.