Friday, April 20, 2018

Review of GHOST STORIES: Of British Brand

April 19, 2018

It used to be that the only foreign movies we get to watch in local theaters are Hollywood blockbusters. It is indeed very welcome that we are now getting to watch more films of all kinds from different parts of the world, even if they did not have big name stars in them. This film is in English, not from the USA, but from the UK, starring British actors we are not so familiar with. We are so used to how Hollywood does horror, it would be good to go see this to see the style of horror from the other side of the Atlantic. 

Prof. Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman), who hosted a TV show debunking supernatural phenomena, was given a challenge to investigate three cases where there appeared to be no rational explanation. Night watchman Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse), hyper teenager Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther) and wealthy financier Matt Priddle (Martin Freeman) all tell Goodman their spooky tales of the unknown. Can the skeptical Goodman figure out the logic behind each case, or would the whole puzzle consume him instead? 

British critics were all praises for this film. It was a throwback to classic horror portmanteau or anthology films, very popular in Britain from the 1940s to the 1970s. It turned out that this film was actually based on a successful play written by the same writer-director team of Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson. Having watched the film now, I am actually very curious as to how this story can effectively be staged as a play. I hope it can be staged here locally, as I have yet to see a full-length horror play.

I confess that I am only familiar with American and Asian horror films. For these reasons, I felt the horror aspect of "Ghost Stories" was rather tame in comparison. The style of horror here was more subdued and suggestive, than in your face. It was more about the buildup of tension and atmosphere than the actual scare. How the story wrapped up in the end was a surreal surprise that could be quite baffling at first viewing, only to be figured out as more thought was given to it afterwards (if you cared to do so, that is). 

For me, the first episode was very well-acted by Paul Whitehouse as the spooked guard Tony. Alex Lawther was too shrill and over-the-top in his performance as Simon, maybe it was supposed to be comedic? Martin Freeman is fresh from an international box-office hit "Black Panther" which accounts for his strong screen presence, even if his role of Matt was a bit too stiff. Lead actor Andy Nyman felt like the supporting actor to all his other co-stars. 

I could not fault viewers who would call this film boring. It can be, as the storytelling was slow and quiet. The scenes were too dimly lit most of the time. There were no remarkable frightening moments or images to make it memorable. This horror film may have worked well in Britain because of nostalgic reasons, but it may not work particularly well in other parts of the world, where flashy techniques of horror are more favored over subtle ones. Still, I thought it still was worth watching, at least as an exposure to the British style of horror. Like British comedy, it is an acquired taste. 6/10.

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