Martin Freeman has some of the best moments in the film version of the popular British stage play.
Surely, I should have known this, however, I was surprised to learn from the “Ghost Stories” credits that it is based on the play of Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, who also direct the feature film version. It would be something to see this material on stage, because much of what transpires on screen is awfully unsettling, creepy, and downright scary.
In “Ghost Stories,” Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman) has been a life-long cynic. He credits his skepticism to his childhood that was marked by a tyrannical father, who hid behind his religion. Goodman has devoted his adulthood to exposing frauds that claim connections with the paranormal. The film opens with Goodman explaining directly to the camera, as part of a television show, that he’s made a career out of taking down charlatans. We see him revealing to an audience that a popular medium is a fake.
We’ve seen this sort of thing before, like in the blockbuster “The Conjuring” franchise where Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play the Warrens, a husband and wife team of paranormal investigators. But where the Warrens believe in the paranormal, Goodman does not, and he’s obsessed in proving that he’s right—ghosts just don’t exist.
His unofficial mentor is a mysterious professor, who was known for debunking paranormal claims. That professor’s motto was that the eye sees what we tell it to see. But strangely, that professor disappeared before Goodman was able to make contact with him. That is why when Goodman is, out-of-the-blue, contacted by his idol, he is very keen on meeting with him. And that meeting results in the old professor asking Goodman to investigate three cases that he was never able to disprove.
The stage is now set for three stories involving ghosts and horror. And when Goodman visits the subjects to hear their stories each is told vividly on screen. We get bumps in the dark and jump scares aplenty.
“Ghost Stories” weaves three stories of fight into the wrap-around narrative of Goodman’s search for some kind of peace. An event in his past is what has driven his career and through exploring these three frustrating cases, Goodman hopes for resolution. But while the stories themselves more than provide scares, the ultimate answers feel a little forced leaving the viewer slightly disappointed in the end. Goodman’s journey ends but not in a way that will satisfy most viewers.
Nyman is fine in the lead, but Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit,” and, recently, “Black Panther”) understandably will get the most attention here. As one of the subjects, Freeman plays a good pompous ass, who offers the story a shocking moment. And there is a telling scene in which Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, playing a priest, offers Goodman some sage advice that seemed quite profound. Holdbrook-Smith is an actor I suspect we’re going to see a lot more, and he leaves an impression here.
As a scary movie, “Ghost Stories” certainly fits the bill. But I suspect that as a stage play it would be even more effective. It’s one play I’d like to see.