'Ghost Stories' Perfectly Encapsulates The Modern World Of The Paranormal
April 09, 2018 6:00 AM ‐ Paranormal • Movies • Ghosts
This article is more than four years old.
WARNING: This Article Contains Spoilers Throughout
'Ghost Stories' is based on a stage show in London's West End, and while the show ran the audience keep its secrets so as not to spoil it for others. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, the ethos of the audience of a stage show is very different to that of cinema goers.
'Ghost Stories' won't be in the cinema for a year, it'll be showing for a couple of weeks at most. The majority of people who want to see it will have done so, as I did, on the opening weekend.
The filmmakers might just have to get used to the fact that spoilers and plot lines will be posted on IMDb, discussed on Reddit and will become the topic of YouTube videos. I would challenge them to find a single movie that has ever been released, which doesn't have spoilers about it posted on the internet.
I feel like an idiot telling you this but, of course, if you're planning to see the movie don't read this article. This article is intended for those who have already seen the film and as the big title above says, it contains spoilers throughout. That means that from pretty much the first paragraph right through until the final word there are details which will ruin your enjoyment of this film.
However, if you have already seen the movie and would like to know more about how the themes in the movie relate to the modern world of the paranormal, the please continue reading.
WARNING: This Article Contains Spoilers Throughout
British horror film 'Ghost Stories' hit cinemas this weekend, proving that writer directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson know their stuff when it comes to the paranormal.
The movie tells the story of Professor Philip Goodman, a minor television celebrity, lecturer and debunker of all things paranormal. As a child, he was a big fan of Charles Cameron, a 70s TV celeb who was also involved in debunking the paranormal, but Cameron disappeared at the height of his fame.
While filming an episode of his television show, Professor Goodman is amazed when Cameron contacts him. It seems that Cameron faked his own death and was driven into isolation by three cases he couldn't explain, which he now believes prove the existence of the supernatural. Now, terminally ill and nearing the end of his life, Cameron passes on these three cases to Professor Goodman in a folder marked "solve these" and challenges Goodman to prove him wrong.
Throughout the movie there are plenty of parallels to the modern skeptical and paranormal research community. The world of the paranormal has always had its trends, in Victorian times it was all about séances and ectoplasm. In the 60s and 70s, stories of hauntings became mainstream news and a new era of more scientific paranormal researchers were on the scene.
Today, there seems to be as many skeptics investing their time in the paranormal as there are believers. The current state of play in the paranormal world is an ongoing battle between hard, unmovable skeptics and believers in the supernatural, who now often regard the paranormal as more of a faith and label skeptics as closed minded.
'Ghost Stories' sums up this battle perfectly. The movie opens with Professor Goodman filming backstage during Mark van Rhys's psychic stage show, where he uncovered evidence that the medium is being fed information about the audience through a hidden earpiece.
Of course, this mirrors real life claims made by the magician Paul Zenon in 2011 that celebrity psychic Sally Morgan uses a similar technique, although the paper that reported the story later apologised for the allegation. Sally herself says the claim is completely false.
In the movie Goodman storms the stage to expose the psychic, leaving the audience member whose son he's claimed to have contacted in tears. It seems in her case the truth was worse than the lie, she clearly needed to reinforce her belief in an afterlife after her little boy died of leukaemia at a young age.
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Things start to get scary when Professor Goodman investigates the first of Cameron's lost case files. He meets with night watchman Tony Matthews, played by 'The Fast Show's' Paul Whitehouse. His terrifying ghost story has all the elements of a modern classic. It's set in a derelict building, which was previously used as an asylum for women. It features poltergeist activity, fleeting glimpses of apparitions, mannequins, and a creepy girl in a yellow dress. The story also touches on pareidolia when Tony is briefly convinced that an normal mop is a ghostly figure. Tony's story end when the spirit has him trapped inside the correction ward of the old asylum, creeping up on him in the darkness, it puts it boney finger in his mouth.
The second case revolves around Simon Rifkind, a paranoid schoolboy played by Alex Lawther, best known for his role in 'Black Mirror'. Simon's incident occurred while driving home at night through a forest, where he hit a strange creature, which terrified him and chased him in to the woods. This scare has driven him online in search of answers where he's uncovered photos and pictures of satyrs, beasts which are half-human and half-goat.
The third and final case is the story of Mike Priddle played by 'The Office's' Martin Freeman. Mike is a city trader, who witnesses poltergeist activity at his home, which foretells the news that his wife has died in labour. The ghostly happenings are subtle to begin with, making them feel more real. One of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it special effects is one of the best I've seen in a horror movie, truly jaw dropping and the kind of activity every paranormal researcher would love to see in real life.
While these three stories are terrifying and chilling, Professor Goodman knows that they are anecdotal, there's no evidence to back them up. The men involved could be lying or could have imagined it all. After all, Goodman's hero Charles Cameron said himself, "the brain sees what it wants to see."
As Goodman, and any good skeptic would say, "there is nothing in any of these stories that couldn't be explained away by any intelligent five-year-old." After investigating the cases, the Professor concludes that "Tony Matthews is an alcoholic who's wrestling with unresolved grief, and Simon was a fragile young man from a deeply dysfunctional family who's on the edge of psychosis."
I must warn you again, from this point onward I discuss the ending of the movie. If you haven't seen the film, reading beyond this point will really ruin the story for you.
Of course at the end of the movie, we find out that Professor Goodman was right, the paranormal isn't real and that he is in fact being haunted by the ghosts of his past. When Goodman returns to see Cameron, the frail old man tears off a mask and reveals himself to be Mike Priddle. Mike then leads Goodman into his own childhood where he encounters the same bullies he'd seen earlier in the movie tormenting a boy with a dead bird on the beach near Cameron's caravan.
As the Professor relives his childhood it becomes clear that he carries with him the guilt of standing back and watching as a local boy died. Desi Callahan AKA Kojak died of an asthma attack after the bullies sent him into a dark tunnel called 'The Echo' in search of a series of ten numbers they'd written on the tunnel walls. These numbers flash up in various places throughout the movie.
Goodman doesn't attempt to save Callahan or summon help, but he does later encounter his ghost, who eerily slips his finger inside the professor's mouth, just like Tony's ghost had done. Goodman is then revealed to actually be in a hospital bed with a finger-like respirator pipe sticking out of his mouth.
We find out that Goodman, unable to cope with the guilt of letting Callahan die, attempted to take his own life by asphyxiation in a car and ended up in hospital. Observant viewers will realise that Goodman is in Christchurch Hospital, the very same hospital that Goodman mentions to the medium near the beginning of the movie.
All that we've seen happen to Goodman has taken place in his mind, and the hospital room his in is full of imagery which features in his hallucination, including the doll in the yellow dress next to his bed, mirroring the toy seen in Mike Priddle's house and the ghost witnessed by Tony Matthews.
The three characters from the stories appear in Goodman's hospital room, all displaying similar characteristics of those in Goodman's delusion, even at times saying the exact same things. Mike Priddle, who Goodman previously saw taking his own life with a shotgun comments on Goodman's predicament and says "shot gun in the mouth, that's the way to do it." The last part of the sentence is said in the style of Mr Punch, a children's puppet that Tony references when Goodman first meets him.
It transpires that Professor Goodman is suffering from "locked-in syndrome," his eyes are open but he can't move or respond in any way. This is the exact same condition that Tony's daughter suffered from, and is mirrored in Simon's paranoid state. Before leaving the room, Mike says "as my old professor Charlie Cameron used to say, 'let's just hope his dreams are sweet'." He delivers this line in a Scottish accent, as if impersonating Cameron, which of course in Goodman's dream, he does.
When Tony enters the room as the hospital janitor, he picks up a mop from a bucket labelled "Christchurch Hospital," this reflects Tony's encounter with the mop in his story. As he cleans the floor the radio is on in the background, it's the same phone-in show that Tony was listening to on the night of his paranormal encounter. Tony whistles as he leaves the room, this is the same song that he played on his stereo on that same night.
The movie ends with the view through the mirror Tony places above Goodman's bed. We see the same window that we've seen flashes of throughout the movie, a dead bird strikes the window.
The movie is based on a stage show which ran in the West End from 2010 to 2011, that was notorious for scaring the heck out of audiences. With promotional lines such as 'You haven't seen horror until you've seen it live' and 'Keep telling yourself it's only a show', the feeling was the writers and producers had taken the scary elements of film, and transported them very successfully into a live show. Now it seems like they've turned the tables and taken that show into the cinema.
Jeremy Dyson is one of the creators and writers behind 'The League of Gentlemen', though he doesn't perform on screen. Whilst Andy Nyman pops up in all manner of acting roles on TV, but perhaps might best be known for being one of the writers and producers of the Derren Brown TV shows.
'Ghost Stories' is in cinemas nationwide now and it's well worth watching if you like a good scare.
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