Whatever you do, don’t miss the opening credits of GHOST STORIES. Just like the stage show from which it hails, the ride begins here.  Some readers may have seen the truly creepy play in London and others may have had the misfortune to have seen the highly flawed production at the Opera House a few years ago. Either way, even if you know the ending, this film has a complete compliment of chilling atmosphere, creepy goings on and an innate, troubling mystery.

Cynic of the paranormal, Professor Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman), is given three supernatural cases by a thought-dead colleague drawn from the spook hunter past.  Drawn to immerse himself in investigating them, he meets face to face with three men who have had a haunted experience. Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse) whose experience as a night watchman has driven him to the drink and given him a thirst for being paid for his relating of ghostly scares.  Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther) a young man living in his hellish bedroom, is unhappy in his homelife particularly after some nasty events in the forest.   Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman) a City trader now rattling around in his big, modernist country home is anxiously awaiting the birth of his first child.

GHOST STORIES is shot on locations in Yorkshire and it has that coldness and imminent inclemency in its look.  Beginning with home footage of our narrator which is lovingly shot to be grainily imperfect, the film never loses the washed-out feel in the dulled blues and mouldy pondscum greens… even the torchlight is watery and limpid.   That evocative palette is the perfect background on which to throw red.  Not too much, this is no gore fest.  This is a horror film of creeping, slow burn unease without vast tracts of unpleasantness.  There’s plenty to shock, though, in its very cinematic form.

If you have seen the show, you will recognise some of the events and effects but as film it relies much more on technique and the stellar cast.   The play was written by, and the film is co-directed by, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson with Nyman taking the lead role.  Nyman is terrific as the guarded sceptic whose impassivity allows the viewer little insight into how he feels about events.  Whereas Lawther’s work in closeup fear, horror and anxiety sells that section of the film.  Whitehouse is so good in the flashback scenes where his held-breath responses to what we see happening to him are heartstopping in the way of a classically scary thrill.  And Freeman is perfect in a difficult role where his apparent aloof, matter of factness and surgical explanation of the facts of his experience are all the more chilling for their repression.

Close ups are used very effectively in the film and technically GHOST STORIES doesn’t go for the big audio, instead there is an excellent use of sound effects and music which really concentrate the mind, allowing the surprises to sneak up.  Sounds like a dripping tap, or glass shattering or creaking footsteps mix it up with the lower range strings which can rise and fill out as the tension ratchets.  There are definitely gasp and look away moments but the small increments of mystery are just as enthralling.

The program for the live GHOST STORIES offered a discount for patrons who wanted to come back after they knew the ending, so they could see how the pieces and clues fit. Same here, really! You will probably want to see it more than once to appreciate the depth of deception that has gone on.

GHOST STORIES,  distributed by Icon Films [Facebook], opens in Australian Cinemas October 25, 2018.  You can see the official trailer here.  And with thanks to Icon Films, Sydney Arts Guide is offering a Ghost Hunter Giveaway.