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Ghost Stories offers horror off the beaten path

Ghost Stories offers horror off the beaten path

Rating: ***1/2

Well, someone finally got the horror anthology thing right. It turns out, the key is to not make the film an anthology at all. Well, not exactly, anyway. Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories bakes three excellent tales inside of a central narrative (starring Nyman). That works thanks to a plot with a strong theme (more on that later) and the impeccable directing of the titular tales. More on that now. 

Dyson and Nyman take care to set the stage in each short story, not with lavish sets, but with scripts and character details that make everything feel authentic. That often goes missing in horror movies, where nothing is real enough to make the supernatural feel otherworldly. That’s not the case here, as everything from the somber tone of an old man in a pub to the frightened face of a teenage boy comes across just the way you’d imagine it. 

That’s especially important in a film largely dealing with the nature of reality, or at least our perception of it. Nyman’s portrayal of an angry, Ricky Gervais-type skeptic runs across three people who genuinely seem in need of help. Perhaps softening a bit in their presence, he shows at least a dash of empathy, if not true humility. 

Ghost Stories doesn’t care if you believe in the supernatural; hell, it doesn’t seem to care if ghosts are real altogether for most of its runtime (no spoilers here). The key to all understanding is knowing how little we really know. The balance between a devout believer and a hardened skeptic is where the film lies. There’s some beauty in that simplicity. 

The scares generally strike a similar pitch, weighting atmospheric spookiness with a loud bang or bump in the night when the feeling seems right. This isn’t quite The Conjuring level of line-em-up-and-knock-em-down horror, but it holds its own. The camera work, particularly throughout the first story, sets it apart from most of the horror films you’ve seen. It’s a nice change of pace to see some creativity in the genre. 

Perhaps creativity is what Ghost Stories offers more than anything else. The film invites the audience to think a little differently about the supernatural and about the genre. This isn’t a total departure like The Witch or A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, but it’s something a little off the beaten path. That makes it worth the while of anyone hoping for a reprieve from yet another retread. 

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