'The Exorcist’ meets ‘The League of Gentlemen’ in a triptych of horror tales that’s presided over with assurance and some seriously mordant wit by playwrights-turned-directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman. They’ve given their own stage play a cinematic reboot that’s both faithful and fresh, without sacrificing any of its macabre intimacy. ‘Ghost Stories’ is smart, surprising and recognisably British, right down to the peeling wallpaper, caravans and analogue tech of its sorta-bygone setting. Its world is weirdly familiar and yet alien. It’s also darn scary.
The three storylines’ common denominator is parapsychologist Professor Phillip Goodman (Nyman). In truth, it’s an odd profession for a man whose sole mission is to debunk witnesses to the supernatural. The arrival of a mysterious cassette sends him to meet three victims of ghostly encounters – Paul Whitehouse’s night watchman, Alex Lawther’s nervy teenager, and Martin Freeman’s Scottish financier – and offers harrowing opportunities to change his mind.
Nyman neatly charts Goodman’s arc from condescension to icy terror, but it’s Whitehouse and Freeman who steal the show. The former’s chapter takes place in an abandoned factory guaranteed to haunt your dreams, while Freeman’s is an off-balancing mix of cockiness and menace. If the climax feels a touch clichéd, it barely spoils the ride.