Ghost Stories (2018)


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.


The Shape of Water (2018)


The masterful and visionary Guillermo del Toro is back; with one of this seasons huge awards contenders, and frankly it isn’t too difficult to see why people have fallen for it. There’s a beautiful twisted charm throughout what can only be described as an odd Hollywood fairy-tale.

A mute janitor by the name of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), ends up cleaning a secretive room in a government facility. In here she discovers and learns more about this amphibian asset (Doug Jones) who she quickly connects to and falls for. It’s soon clear that this water-dwelling creature is in the midst of Cold War tactics and Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) is laser-focused on doing no good to this being.

I never expected to see a film featuring an upright fish man and a non-speaking lead to incorporate elements of such love, engaging humour and aspects of classy glitz a la ‘The Artist’ and ‘La La Land’. Director del Toro has very nearly struck a fascinating gold mine with this film, one that certainly feels like his greatest storytelling achievement since ‘Pans Labyrinth’. I say very nearly because perhaps down to my own over-hyping of this feature, I found the movie to not always keep me immersed and the obscure romance/will they, won’t they element isn’t anything majorly refreshing, even if the romantic partner is green and scaly.

Aside from those points, I found myself enjoying almost the entire run. The cast of characters are believably written and wonderfully acted. There is a healthy mix of fairly absurd comedy to be found considering the subject of this film and what people say is cleverly scripted to elicit humour. The swelling score helps this film feel like a piece of stunning movie-making from a bygone era of classic Hollywood, this can further be realised with the production design of Elisa’s neighbours’ apartment and the numerous visuals of black and white reels on screens. As you might expect with a del Toro picture, there are moments of wincing gore that definitely do their part to make you squeam.

What I think is the best quality in this Cold War set romantic fantasy, is the enchanting rapture of the world we’re presented with; the people within it, the places and the central heart shaped pairing, all mesh together to create inspiring choreography of adoration for movie monsters and Hollywood of old. I don’t know about everyone because this film has been picking up some negative jabs , but for me at least, without any real doubt I can say I was won over by the stylish spin on a love story…and by the glorious amount of key lime pie!

Hawkins gives such a lovely presence throughout, practically saying nothing she manages to tell the story through a spellbinding emotive performance. There’s almost something other-worldly about her and I think she’s the perfect fit for this role. Richard Jenkins is a gem of an actor and character within this movie; he brings great levity, kindness and a loneliness too. Shannon is always someone I enjoy watching and here he has perfect menace in his eyes and a hell bent drive to his narrative, that pretty much only Shannon could muster. Jones is del Toro’s go to guy for making beasts come to life and though it may be no epic Pale Man creation, this amphibian figure splashes with an enamouring touch. Michael Stuhlbarg and Octavia Spencer are incredible supporting players who have their own moments to shine; in both aiding Elisa’s plot and within their own great scenes.
It may not be the winningly dazzling film I hoped it would be, but it’s certainly a film with visual flair, a film I’d re-watch and a film with classical romance flipped upside down and submerged in the wondrous waters of Guillermo del Toro’s mind.