Ghost Stories (2017)

In theaters: Ghost Stories (2017)

Ghost Stories (2017) is a variation of the British horror anthology that places its three short tales of terror into a larger, unifying narrative structure, which approximates the effects of a full-length feature—a thoughtful gesture for those of us who never much cared for British horror anthologies (or their American counterparts). It’s written well and directed well by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, who adapted it from their own stage play, but it feels so natural in movie form that you wonder if this had been the plan all along.

Poster
Ghost Stories (2017)
Ghost Stories (2017)

The framing device goes something like this: A professional debunker of the supernatural, played just this side of bumbling by co-writer/co-director Nyman, investigates three unsolved cases that might be more personal to him than he realizes. The first involves a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse), the second a neurotic teenager (Alex Lawther), and the third a stock broker who has decamped to the country (Martin Freeman). Freeman attains new heights of awesome, although I’ll refrain from telling you exactly how so as not to spoil the surprise.

The Britishness in this movie is second to none, and that includes its perfectly modulated humor, but its horror credentials are shakier than they should be. The first vignette is as tense as all get-out, but the second and third are progressively less so, and there’s an overreliance on jump scares in general. The climax of the film continues the trend, in that each successive piece-of-the-puzzle payoff diminishes the experience of the film as a whole. It also seems to hedge on its premise that there is more to the universe than atoms and molecules. A more perfect science could advance an explanation for every mystery in this movie, which is precisely the argument that a materialist would make. Or a British empiricist, come to think of it. Let’s not just hand them over the baby, even (and especially) if it would rather eat cat food.