Who doesn’t love a Brit of horror…
Ghost Stories (2017)
Ghost Stories was written and directed by Andy Nyman – who I first saw in Severance (2006) (cooking a pie) and seems an exceptionally clever fella (though maybe a bit smug) and Jeremy Dyson – who OF COURSE helped create brilliant 90s black comedy The League of Gentlemen. Now I don’t wanna insult the guy, he’s been involved with loads of stuff (probably), but The League was a big favourite of mine back in the day and I’ll always associate the foursome with it, no matter what they do. Sorry.
Anyway. Given these facts, the weird trailer and the cast of comedy actors including Tim from The Office (sometimes known as Martin Freeman) and Paul Whitehouse, you would be forgiven for assuming that Ghost Stories is actually really very like The League of Gentlemen, i.e. – extremely peculiar but mainly very funny. And whilst this film is certainly very peculiar and definitely still funny (the dialogue and characters are both cleverly written and rather humorous) it is far, FAAAAAR darker. Yay!
Ghost Stories is an anthology film (or portmanteau if you prefer). There are three stories which centre around main character Phillip Goodman (Nyman) – a lonely professor and ‘debunker‘ of supernatural and superstitious fads. He is called upon by a mysterious old man – a now-retired paranormal investigator whom Goodman used to revere as a child – and challenged to investigate three of the SCARIEST and – rather worryingly – completely inexplicable, unexplained cases that the mad old coot ever came across. These three investigations then make our anthology stories. So let the festivities begin.
I really liked Ghost Stories. It was my kinda bag (baby – sorry, I can’t help rinsing that tired, old, unfunny joke constantly) and apart from being typically and wonderfully British, I simply found it entertaining, scary (super scary in places), rather clever, and so beautifully disturbing – almost depressing in a way but in a good way if you understand that way. Anyway. Amongst all the dark humour and intrigue there’s almost constantly a feeling of dread in Ghost Stories – and I effing loved it.
The writing was (in my humble, amateur opinion) exceptional and I say that with no hesitation. I’ve already mentioned the dialogue and characters and the fact it’s genuinely scary – but the connection between the stories and Goodman himself – the mystery that you (The Viewer) are trying to work out and will clearly (and coherently) unfold – all worked really well. The sheer WEIRDNESS is just amazing, plus it helps that it IS frightening and tense, with ghosts and devils and dark rooms, thing that go bump in the night and wicked woods filled with wanton, malicious evils.
Gotta be honest here – I’m not entirely sure if I’m using wanton in the correct context outside of a Chinese restaurant but I like the way it sounds so I’m leaving it.
So to wrap up (that would be nice wouldn’t it) Ghost Stories doesn’t break any new ground as such, but the combination of everything together – the stories, atmosphere, the script, terror and characters, even the music – still made the whole feature feel pretty original to me. There was an integral, genuine old fashioned feel as well, which is few and far between these days and to be honest – despite watching a lot of horror films – it’s still rare to find something like Ghost Stories – an original and entertaining horror film.
The Ritual (2017)
The Ritual didn’t have quite as much impact but important to note I enjoyed it and even more important to note that I think a genuine effort was made to create a film that had an actual POINT – and whilst perhaps not necessarily more fun than your average ‘sexy teens skinny dipping in the haunted lake and messing around with weed and Ouija boards’ – or whatever fad is currently going on, zombies is usually a good bet – definitely still better (so to speak) and certainly more involved.
So the story follows four friends – Luke (the gobby one), Hutch (the ‘fit’ one), Dom (the sensible boring one, who probably doesn’t like tipping in restaurants) and Phil (the non-descript one, there to make up numbers and take a battering) – who go to Sweden for a hiking trip. Giving away a small spoiler that happens at the beginning of the film – there was once a fifth Musketeer too – Rob. And let’s call him ‘the active one’ because it was his silly idea to go hiking in Sweden in the first place and then he goes and dies in a shop robbery that is kind of gobby Luke’s fault and so – racked with guilt and hatred and all these other absolutely CRACKING emotions – the guys go hiking in Robert’s memory. Happy Holidays.
So after the lads commemorate their best friend with some rocks, Dom (the boring one) injures himself (what a twat) which pushes the friends into taking a highly in-advisable ‘short cut’ through the forest. A short cut through the forest!! When will these idiots in horror movies learn. Obviously this is when things start getting BAD. Bad like even worse than commemorating your mate with a rock.
Basically you know that old chestnut when you’re walking through a forest and feel like something is watching you, following you and possibly trying to kill you? Well that’s what starts to happen.
Now, The Ritual is called The Ritual (presumably) because it deals with, kind of, you know, ritual stuff. And by that undeniably concise sentence what I mean to say – without giving anything away – is it’s a bit cult-y and a bit scary summoned creature-y. I’ve already said too much – but imagine symbols cut into trees, twisted nightmares, disturbing effigy’s, creepy chanting and gutted animals – I think you know the kind of shit I’m peddling here.
But whilst there’s all this freaky arse shit going down, we have the dynamics of the group to contend with, including Luke’s guilt and subsequent blame for Rob’s death. All this ‘ritual’ type stuff is twinned with the men themselves and their relationships with one another. Actually – and I didn’t know this until the time of writing – but The Ritual is based on a book of the same name and one quick look at Wiki tells me that the factors and conflict within the group are further explored in the original novel.
And sorry but I must confess quickly that I actually watched this on Prime when I was off work with a bad cold And I mean a BAD COLD. So much so that I fell asleep a couple of times and whilst I don’t think it massively detracted my viewing pleasure (when I say ‘fell asleep’ I mainly mean dozing once or twice until a loud bit came on), I did possibly miss a few bits – but that’s what makes me such a wonderful, sturdy and informative movie reviewer. Yes?
Anyway I didn’t miss that much and I can honestly say the film was very enjoyable. In fact the more I think about it now the more I think fuck yeah, that was a pretty horror good movie! Well written, interesting, jumpy and definitely creepy. Happily the on-screen scares are in plentiful supply – whether it’s chilling imagery, outright scares or plain repugnant shit (possibly my personal favourite). Sometimes with films that have a bit of psychology to them, you may end up lacking on the actual on-screen frights but The Ritual did not disappoint here at all and was full of tension, terror and old fashioned scares. And although I didn’t personally enjoy it quite as much as Ghost Stories, it’s a very worthy horror.
You know the best thing to do? Just watch them both. Preferably on the same evening. Preferably on the same dark, cold winter evening…