2018 Milwaukee Film Festival – Day Fourteen – GHOST STORIES
There are some people of strong enough constitutions that can resist a film festival playing a horror film on Halloween. That’s not me, so it was an easy decision to go see GHOST STORIES on the next to last day of the 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival.
GHOST STORIES aspires to evoke the classic British horror anthologies of Amicus Studios and Ealing’s classic DEAD OF NIGHT, complete with final rug pull. The film is based on a stage play by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman and they adapt and direct the film version too. Andy Nyman even stars as a professional skeptic who is given a challenge by an old inspiration to find an explanation for a trio of inexplicable cases. Naturally, nothing good will come of this investigation.
Between the constantly gray overcast skies, the palpable chill and dampness in the air, and the very Britishness of its scares, save for an EVIL DEAD homage, there’s no mistaking the country of origin of the film or the inspirations it’s evoking. GHOST STORIES comes surprisingly close to joining the upper ranks of that long tradition with its stories of a night watchman in a spooky warehouse, a teenager out too late with his parents’ car that hits “something” in the woods, and an investment broker dealing with a poltergeist where it generates some real chills. It perhaps comes up a little short in the tradition by not letting the stories play out to a definitive resolution, you can sense that the lights cut out at the particular shock moments of each stories as a stage play. Still between the dry humor and some effective scares, the anthology stories were working like a charm.
It’s perhaps when it returns to the framing story and tries to attach a frame of meaning and explanation that it comes up a bit short. GHOST STORIES really seems to be taking a swing at the big final twists of ASYLUM and DEAD OF NIGHT. Alas, Andy Nyman as the skeptic doesn’t quite evoke the empathy needed on the movie screen to really get you emotionally invested, so while the ending makes logical sense, it’s kind of a deflating truth. Particularly, when you have the personable Martin Freeman on hand to really liven up the proceedings. The grounded explanation wins, which isn’t as much fun as a more supernatural explanation. Perhaps that’s the whole point of this exercise, but if so, it’s playing against what makes the genre fun and memorable.
Still, it’s a good effort overall with several memorable moments. The audience was having a good time and I was too. It raised my hopes that there was perhaps a future classic here, but a fun, scary movie on Halloween with some ideas is nothing to scoff at. GHOST STORIES might not be anything more than that, but it’s still a worthy addition to its tradition.
As I type this, the last films at this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival have started playing. You can keep an eye out for the 2019 edition of the Milwaukee Film Festival by checking in at Milwaukee Film’s website mkefilm.org. And fret not, there are still a handful of reviews coming as I catch up with some of the most buzzed about films that played at the festival. Keep stopping by in the upcoming days.