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Review: Ghost Stories

Saw Ghost Stories at IFC Center. It’s funny: by sheer coincidence, I just watched another British horror anthology film called The House That Dripped Blood, a slice of old school ‘70s cheese that features a strong narrative hook (all four tales take place in and around the same cursed abode) and a stellar cast (Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and the criminally underrated Denholm Elliott), but ultimately fails to generate suspense thanks to its dry, stuffy execution.

Ghost Stories, on the other hand, oozes atmosphere like ectoplasm. Every facet of the cinematography—the tight closeups, the shallow depth of field, the lighting that elongates and distorts shadows—creates the illusion that something sinister is lurking just out of sight, ready to pounce at any moment. Perhaps more importantly, it also has a sturdier thematic foundation; whereas The House That Dripped Blood’s framing device feels like an afterthought, here, it’s the entire point of the episodic plot structure.

Our protagonist is a paranormal investigator that specializes in debunking supernatural phenomena, with little regard for who is harmed in the crossfire of his crusade; indeed, whether it’s due to their age, class, religion, political affiliation, or state of mental health, he seems to consider all of his clients to be intellectually inferior. One day, however, his now-disillusioned mentor assigns him three particularly chilling cases that challenge his narrow worldview and force him to confront the undeniable truth that, beneath his confidence and bluster, he’s absolutely terrified of facing the consequences of his actions in the afterlife. Although I’m an avowed skeptic, it was deeply satisfying to see such a smarmy bastard repeatedly choke on his own arrogance (having doubts doesn’t justify disrespecting others’ beliefs).

The big third act twist is a bit gratuitous and anticlimactic for my taste, but taken as a whole, Ghost Stories is a fun little haunted house ride that deftly juggles scares, humor, and sharply-scripted character drama.

[Originally written April 26, 2018.]

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