Professor Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman, "The Commuter") is the star of his own television show debunking psychics. Just after having noted the irony that an admired predecessor, Professor Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrne), had disappeared under mysterious circumstances, Goodman is thrilled to receive a cassette tape from the man who coined the phrase 'existential fear' and affirmed 'the brain sees what it wants to see.' But when he meets Cameron, the man has changed his tune, insisting Goodman investigate three cases he is convinced are legitimate "Ghost Stories."
Adapting their own hit play, writer/directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman make their feature directorial debut with a genre film reflecting their love of horror. Their influences can be seen a bit too clearly, though, in three overly familiar stories that build tension well but offer few scares. Where they do excel is in the ingenuity of their wraparound story, yet even this is rooted in 'The Twilight Zone.'
After finding the unwell Cameron in a ramshackle old trailer, Goodman sets out to look into Case 1, that of haunted night watchman Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse, "The Death of Stalin"). The man is reluctant to talk, mentioning only a daughter suffering from locked-in syndrome, until fifty quid is offered. Dyson and Nyman plunge us into his story. Tony walks a new colleague through the terrain and procedure via walkie talkie, but when someone keeps unplugging the generator which powers the old, abandoned women's asylum, Tony's very much alone. Or so he thinks until he enters a room which has mysteriously shed itself of the chains once locking it. Following up with Tony's priest, Father Emery (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, "The Commuter"), doesn't help Goodman either, but the experience leads him to visit his estranged, catatonic father.
Case 2 leads the professor to the home of Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther, "The Imitation Game"), a strange place indeed. The twitchy Rifkind inspires caution as he commands Goodman upstairs to his room, the professor's peak into the kitchen as he ascends also unnerving. But the story that unfolds here isn't very intriguing and ends abruptly. The third case introduces Goodman to widowed stock trader cum country gentleman Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman) who caps his tale of a poltergeist with a shocking conclusion (albeit one which can be seen coming a mile away).
Nyman and Dyson seed their stories with connective tissue that doesn't come into focus until Goodman returns to Cameron's trailer. As realities are stripped away, Goodman's own childhood memories, which opened the film, return to expose the guilt he has carried throughout his adult life. The filmmakers have found atmospheric locations and sprinkle provocative cutaway shots throughout, but while they prove capable of delivering chills, their payoffs, save their last twist, leave one wanting more.
Robin gives "Ghost Stories" a B-.
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