London Student

London Film Festival – Ghost Stories: ‘howling with laughter and terror’

Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories is like a smoothie – a really fucking good smoothie.

Here’s the recipe:

Take the strangeness and intrigue of The Twilight Zone, the twists and turns of Black Mirror, and the gut-busting comedy of Armando Iannucci. Add to this a sprinkle of genre classics: The Evil Dead, Hammer Horror, and John Carpenter. Then garnish with quintessential spooky tropes, all of them: creepy girls, creepy dolls, creepy woods, creepy warehouses, creepy werewolves, creepy hooded men ad infinitum. Blend the entire thing together, and drink in a dark room with a bunch of people who keep jumping out of their seats every 10 seconds.

If this sounds like a shit-ton of fun, that’s because it is. The absolute genius of Ghost Stories lies in its derivative nature: no individual components are unique, but the combination of it all together is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Nyman himself stars as Professor Goodman, a TV paranormal investigator who debunks ‘psychic’ celebrities with sadistic glee. One day, a long lost idol contacts him to present three supposedly unsolvable cases. We explore each of these three cases, as a sinister overarching plot begins to phase into focus…

Ghost Stories works remarkably well as a quintessentially British comedy. It’s deadpan, dark, and explicit in equal measure. As a comedy-horror, it acknowledges the absurdity of all its set-ups almost incessantly – poking fun at the stupidity of the characters even as they descend into situations that are potentially lethal. There are jokes by the bucketful, especially in the opening half act and in the second storyline: jokes that had the audience howling with laughter.

But here’s the weird thing: it’s absolutely terrifying. For every burst of riotous laughter, Dyson and Nyman manage to fit in two genuine scares. And by genuine, I mean kick-the-chair-in-front-of-you-and-yell-an-expletive genuine. I don’t think I’ve ever jumped so much in the space of an hour and a half, or considered holding my hands over my eyes for so long. The tension could be felt throughout the audience: anxious laughter, gasps of dismay, and of course screaming seemed almost omnipresent. The blend between comedy and horror is so expert that, in fact, jokes that provoked bursts of laughter were often accompanied, or shortly followed, by a scare that had the whole room screaming. This tonal jangling is an incredible showcase of skill from the two directors, who’ve managed to pull off a feat that many had thought impossible: a genuinely, frequently funny and genuinely, frequently scary horror-comedy.

The highlight of the whole experience has to be the way in which Dyson and Nyman constantly drop the floor away from the audience. Whenever we become familiar with a particular arc or situation, it’s quickly flipped to another case, or another interlude, or (as in the case of the final act) something else altogether. The cumulative effect is akin to falling down the rabbit hole: disorientating, unpredictable, and more hopeless by the second.

During the screening, I often wandered whether Ghost Stories knew what it was trying to be. By the end, I reckoned it did: it was us, the audience, who didn’t have a clue all along… It is, as the LFF programme suggests, the most fun you can possibly have whilst being scared: gut-bustingly hilarious, mind-bendingly surreal, and absolutely terrifying. The nexus of the comedy-horror, and the perfect seaside carnival spookshow…

10/10

 

Featured image: Independent.

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James Witherspoon

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