Playing out a bit like a haunted ride, Ghost Stories is a not-so-serious, but seriously scary experience, packed with intensely spooky build-ups and startling jump-scares, the likes of which The Conjuring series wished it possessed. It also becomes an involved exploration into the paranormal and how it has a place in the material world, particularly to a supernatural sceptic like Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman), which makes for an interesting viewpoint on the unexplainable ways of the world that becomes increasingly mysterious as the film starts questioning its own reality – until the twist ending just ruins all that.
Ghost Stories follows Phillip as he investigates three different stories of spooky ghostly terror: the first, Tony (Paul Whitehouse) who describes a terrifying night-time encounter at a hospital where he works as a security guard, the second of a young Simon (Alex Lawther), who experiences a devilish encounter in the woods while driving home, and the last is the oddly chipper and financially well-off Mike (Martin Freeman) who becomes haunted in the bedroom of he and his wife’s expecting child.
But Ghost Stories isn’t exactly a three-piece anthology tale. Each of these stories are definitely the horror highlights, where the film moves away from mere mystery-drama and flexes its horror muscles. But surrounding them is the personal journey of the sceptic who has his beliefs tested by these stories, particularly when their supernatural creepiness seeps out from these anecdotes and tears into his life, all the while bringing up his own anxieties and guilt from his past.
It’s great to see this jittery, bumpy, terrifying ride becomes more and more involved in Phillip’s own philosophy, making him more vocally adamant about his scepticism the more they are torn away from him. Directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson have adapted Ghost Stories from their popular stage-play, though none of the theatrical staginess can be felt in this film form, and it plays out very much like a cinematic treat utilising this medium to produce the biggest frights and scares, as well as connecting the dismantling of the film alongside the dismantling of Phillip’s mind-set.
Unfortunately, it all adds up to a final revelation that collapses these stacked cards. Ghost Stories spends so much time prodding at the mysteries and oddities that make up so much of our horror folklore, yet the ending seems content with destroying all that curiosity with an utterly naff conclusion to this character arc. Aside from this ending disappointment leaving a sour aftertaste, the preceding film is an excellent piece of horror, feeling refreshing in an age of predictable jump-scares and overly-done supernatural nonsense. See it if you feel like squirming and jumping in a cinema seat.