A Professor bent on debunking popular ghost stories and psychics is given a file of three cases that a ghost expert couldn’t crack.
I really didn’t know much about this movie going into it- I’m sure that’ll happen a lot during my mad dash to try and watch thirty-one horror movies before October. I’d heard of this primarily because of Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'“), but I’m vaguely familiar with Andy Nyman (“Death at a Funeral” (2007)).The only thing I knew was that this was an anthology film about- well- ghosts. The concept was interesting enough, and reviews, while not incredible, were at least decent, and when looking for a plethora of horror films, sometimes decent is the best you can ask for.
Three Ghostly Stories
After Professor Goodman is given a folder containing three unexplainable stories about ghosts he sets out to find the three people who saw the spirits. First, he meets Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse, “The Death of Stalin”), a former night watchman for an abandoned facility. Then he meets Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther, “The Imitation Game”), a student. And finally he meets Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman), a successful business owner. As he goes over the details of each of their cases, Goodman tries to poke holes in their stories and explain away any lingering elements of the supernatural.
One thing I noticed almost immediately was that the pacing of this film was all over the place. There are moments when we ramp up tension and then, because we switch stories, we loose all that tension and momentum, only to start another story. The story structure of the film itself is really interesting, and if it was used in a different genre I think it might’ve worked a lot better. The problem is that every time the viewer feels increasingly nervous or tense, the film cuts away to a different to a different story and the tension is lost, making the beginning of every story feel extremely slow.
As far as the stories go, I really enjoyed the first one. I thought there were a couple creepy moments, and there were some really cool locations. Honestly, the best part of the first story is the use of light and dark in their cinematography. The first story focuses on the night watchmen as he wanders around the empty, lightless halls of an old Asylum. There are many shots where Tony is far away, using only a flashlight to light his path, and the way light moves in that scene is amazing. We see it spill slowly over steps, creep around corners, light up large rooms from a great distance away. The second story was rather stupid, in my opinion. Simon claims he saw some kind of goat demon, and the whole thing looked kind of silly rather than scary. I think even the filmmakers must’ve known how poorly their demon looked, because we only get a few brief flashes of what he actually looks like. The third story is fine. Martin Freeman sees a ghost in his new nursery, and the imagery is creepy, but the way he tells the story seems so nonchalant that there’s really no tension built there. After the three stories are told we see another sort of backstory on Professor Goodman’s character, and that is where the movie both started to excel and started to loose me. I want to go a little more into detail about what happens near the end of the film and why it almost lost me completely. To do that, I need to reveal the twist, so if you want to see this film, skip the next paragraph. The tagline for this movie, by the way, is “The Brain Sees What It Wants To See.” That comes into play heavily during the final part of this film.
(SPOILERS ABOUT THE ENDING)
After the three stories happen, Professor Goodman, returns to the man who originally gave him the folder containing the three cases. At this point in the film, Goodman’s mind has begun to unravel a little, and he believes he’s started to see things. When Goodman talks to the man that gave him the folder, the man suddenly rips a mask apart, revealing that he’s actually Martin Freeman. Freeman then rips a hole in the wall and bids Goodman come with him through the hole. When they immerge on the other side of the hole, its revealed that they’re inside Goodman’s memories, from a time when something horrible happened in his childhood. Goodman watches his memories replay and then is ushered by another figure into another room. It feels, for a moment, like we’re watching some dark nod to A Christmas Carol, with the visitation of spirits. Eventually it’s revealed that Goodman is actually in a coma because he tried to kill himself over the guilt of what happened during his childhood. Everything we’ve witnessed is a dream inside Goodman’s mind. Sigh… I feel like even in film school we were told to never use the ‘it was only a dream’ twist. Why? Because the viewers feel cheated. The twist doesn’t really do anything to add to the film, it just explains away the things that couldn’t be explained. It feels cheap, and it’s just an easy way to get out of a hole you’ve written yourself into. There are some really cool cinematic moments during the final act of the film, but the reveal of the twist lessens anything I could’ve gotten from this.
Though I talked more about the things that didn’t work for me in this movie, I can’t say it was a terrible film. There were certainly elements that were really well done, but the twist ending, the uneven pacing, the second story as a whole all kind of left me feeling rather ‘blah’ about this film. See it, if you want. Don’t see it, and you won’t be missing anything big. It’s harmless and short, so if that’s what you’re looking for, go for it.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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