Ghost Stories (2018)

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You are welcome to Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Adults, a series of cautionary tales for lovers of squeam. I call this tale a brilliant and effectively clever spin on the horror genre.

Psychic debunker Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman) is called to investigate three unsolved ghastly cases. Each story becomes stranger and perhaps, scarier than the one before and soon Goodman realises there may be reason to drop his disbelief in the supernatural.

Having the film told via one main narrative and three side-quest cases makes for an intriguing story. Horrors are great when they play around with the formula and/or provide a sense of genuine unease, for example ‘Scream’, ‘It Follows’ and ‘A Quiet Place’, this film fits nicely into that way of film-making too because it draws you in with this strange mystery divulged to the professor, that we too feel a part of. The narrative certainly distorts in front of your very eyes and happily subverts tropes of horror, to present this effective trail in unanswerable visions of the other side.

Starting out like ‘Lights Out’, the first section based in an abandoned asylum uses generic back and forth annoyances to amp up the unnerving atmosphere and becomes vaguely unsettling. The second part smoothly sails into the Satanic realm and becomes a late night tinged fear factory in the middle of the woods. Then all things get crazier as what seems like a rich and well-mannered businessman story, descends into ghostly occurrences and a shocking real life action that takes place whilst Goodman questions Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman).

If like me and you haven’t seen the 2010 stage play this film is adapted from, then all bets are off as this film, pardon my language, turns into a brain fizzling mind fuck leaving me open mouthed and loving the sheer cleverness and fooling around with which the writers revel. The plot and the engrossing dark method of each case is akin to ‘Inside No. 9’, a BBC show that is marvellously unique. I admit that one of the twists revealed in ‘Ghost Stories’ I guessed from the offset but it never distracted from a terrifying trek into the possible realm of evil spirits. I could see why some people wouldn’t be satisfied with the late stage twists and turns, but I found the ending to be unexpected, chilling and smart making me restore hope in horrors that can be good and not solely rely on villains with masks for merchandising and jump scares.

I also want to comment on the lighting used throughout, espicially within the trio of cases, where they look exceptional. The production team and art directors have created vivid worlds in each of the tales and as light and dark are toyed around with, I found myself as lost and maddened as Goodman, as I began seeing figures in off-screen spaces and being gripped by the great use of shadows and light movement. It’s definitely done in a way that I imagine alludes to the theatrical background the story comes from.

Nyman is great as he begins losing his hold on reality and the cases take hold on him but he’s never a hugely interesting protagonist to follow. Paul Whitehouse is superb as the begrudging and unfriendly night watchman Tony. He plays the mixture of comic timing and worried lonely guard well. Alex Lawther is just a brilliantly odd actor, I mean that in the best way possible. The stutters, his emotive looks and panicked fear are played so well that I felt every ounce of his situation. Freeman as Priddle is someone you never fully grasp and an extra dose of underlying terror comes from his shocking case and subsequent actions in the film prove what a talented performer he really is.

This is a nifty horror that messes you about in such a delightful and skin crawling way. The more it goes on, the more dark and yet interestingly fun it becomes.

8.5/10

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The Greatest Showman (2017)

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Pulling out all the stops, this movie tries shooting for the ol’ razzle dazzle and though there is a definite amount of flair and showbiz style through transitions and musical numbers, it all feels empty and try hard. The story of the man himself; Mr. P.T Barnum is glossed over to make way for a post Christmas family feature that requires no smarts.

As a child, Phineas Barnum was less well off but a dreamer and he finally got the girl he’d loved. Now residing in New York with their two daughters, Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and Charity (Michelle Williams) seem happier than ever, but Barnum wants more and he eventually creates a ‘circus’ of sideshows and freaks to sell tickets and give his family all they could ever wish.

Riding on the success of Academy darling and theatrical luvvie of late 2016/early 2017 ‘La La Land’, this musical drama employs the writing talents of Pasek and Paul to conjure up a bunch of songs. They certainly come under the ear-worm label as I’m still annoyingly humming them as I write this. Saying that, they’re nowhere near as close as subtle or stylishly cool as the songs in the Gosling/Stone led runaway hit. To be honest, there came a time when a character began to sing that I audibly groaned because they just appear almost consistently. I know it’s a musical but they are irritating hokey songs that strive for the stars but end up somewhere amongst bland superficial lyrics of being special – whoever you are – yeah that old chestnut.

Certain elements in this just stood out like cheap distractions at a local funfair. The alarming dubbing of an older man speaking for the clunky walking dwarf. The ‘Siamese Act’ who were clearly two performers standing side by side and the ‘Bearded Lady’ who’s facial fuzz looked like glued on hair a couple of times. I know Barnum revelled in fooling audiences and providing fake attractions but this film doesn’t even show us this as it makes him seem like an idol of blossoming variety entertainment.

Hugh Jackman is a charismatic actor and he certainly helps this film from totally falling flat but I feel he’s too much of a nice guy to play the role of someone who hoaxed the public. Michelle Williams is a glamorous wife and mother and gets to showcase some singing prowess and dancing ability but she has little to do, other than stand by and watch Jackman parade as the enigmatic showman he is. Rebecca Ferguson plays opera singer Jenny Lind but doesn’t even wow because she’s there as a cheap sideline narrative and her song is sung by someone else, plus she’s meant to be a pro opera performer but her song sounds like the typical X Factor winners track. Zendaya carries a believable amount of emotion in her role as acrobat and racially shunned figure for Zac Efron to fall in love with. For me, I found her to be the most engaging and interesting character to follow, with Efron close behind.

All the lights and stage magic never lit a spark in me and it just became a tiresome boringly told story, filled by ever irritating songs. It’s a mess of a musical but one that has just enough charm in places to keep the circus tent from falling down.

4.5/10