“The brain sees what it wants to see.” You’ll hear this a lot in Ghost Stories, and every time it rings more true. A powerful film that speaks about mental health and the overwhelming feeling of guilt.
Let’s jump right in!
Ghost Stories was released in 2017 and was written and directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson. It’s based on a stage play of the same name. Nyman stars as Philip Goodman, a man who has spent his life debunking psychics.
Goodman has always looked up to Charles Cameron, a paranormal investigator from the 70’s who spent his career debunking spirits. But Cameron went missing one day mysteriously.
Philip receives a package to his office that inside has a tape from Cameron and an up-to-date photo. Cameron asks Philip to come meet him. He finds Cameron in a dirty old caravan, clearly very ill. Cameron tells Philip he feels regret for spending his life debunking and telling people they were wrong. He hands Philip three cases that he feels like he couldn’t disprove.
Philip is up to the challenge.
Case One - TONY MATTHEWS
Tony (Paul Whitehouse) used to work as a nightwatchman for an abandoned “nuthouse for women”. He also has a daughter, Marnie, who is in a coma in the hospital. It’s called ‘locked-in syndrome’ because everything seems to be working fine, including the brain, she just won’t wake up. One night at the hospital Tony has a terrifying ghostly experience that he can’t explain.
When Philip investigates he meets with a priest who believes Tony. He also mentions that when Tony visited his daughter for the first time in years after this experience, it was like Marnie knew he was there.
This was a pretty great sequence. There’s a lot of great jump scares that are really well done and caught me completely off guard.
Case Two - SIMON RIFKIND
Simon (Alex Lawther) is a young adult who is very anxious and paranoid. His bedroom is filled with demonic imagery and he really struggles to tell Philip what he experienced.
He had lied about passing his driver’s test, and took his father’s car out for the night. Driving home late one night he’s being yelled at by his Dad on the phone when he hits something. Simon gets out of the car to find he’s hit some sort of demonic creature with horns. He gets in the car and drives away fast. Unfortunately, his car breaks down. And as he’s waiting for help, the demon chases him down.
At this point, Philip believes he’s solved the cases - Tony is just an alcoholic battling with grief, and Simon is on the verge of a breakdown. He’s had a rough life so it makes sense.
But as Philip is recording his findings, he sees a ghost of himself in his car.
Case Three - MIKE PRIDDLE
Mike (Martin Freeman) and his wife have finally gotten pregnant after trying IVF. 7 months into the pregnancy though, his wife starts spotting and he takes her to the hospital. Mike leaves her there and heads home where in the nursery he starts to see poltergeist behavior. The poltergeist is throwing diapers around and stacking bottles.
Later that night Mike goes back to the nursery and sees what he believes to be the spirit of a child in the crib under the blanket, and then sees his dead wife. Shortly after, the hospital calls and says that his wife died in childbirth, the baby “split her in two.”
After telling Philip this story, Mike promptly shoots himself in the head.
And this is where things get weird. Mike heads back to Cameron’s caravan to confront him and say that none of these cases were supernatural. But Cameron rips off his face and clothes and underneath is Mike.
Then things hit the wall with craziness.
The film is beautifully shot. Every scene feels very specifically framed and chosen. There’s also no scenes that feel unnecessary. Everything is there for a reason, which I really appreciate. Everyone pulled off a great performance and I really enjoyed the dark humor littered throughout.
I know there’s been a lot of complaints about the ending, and I was aware going in that it might not be satisfactory. But for me, the ending was perfect. This movie in general was absolutely incredible. Here’s my thoughts on it all:
Ultimately, the brain sees what it wants to see and that’s the case for this movie. We take it at face value - a man investigating three different cases. And as weird things start to happen we don’t take them in like we would in a different situation. Because Philip has already convinced us that the supernatural doesn’t exist, that everything is a trick. It’s also such a great story of ego because Philip is so convinced that he is right, and everyone else is unable to see things rationally. When in reality, Philip is the one that can’t see things clearly.
Each story is its own manifestation of his guilt. Tony’s story is Philip’s own regrets of not spending more time with his father. Simon’s story is one of feeling guilty about lies. Simon lies about his job, about his license, and Philip has spent his whole life lying about the true death of Callahan. Mike’s story is Philip’s guilt of throwing everything he has into a career and not taking the time to get married or have children, something he wanted.
The director, Nyman points out that the reason the cast is all male, is because of, “that suffocating male bullshit and the different version that takes and how crippling it is.” I just love that. Because gosh isn’t that just the truth? When asked to talk about their feelings, talk about what they saw, Tony responds with defensive statements, Simon can’t get his words out properly, and Mike acts like very serious issues are not a problem and kind of a joke. And as a woman in an 8 year relationship with a man….that is fucking spot on to dealing with his emotions. And I think it’s just truly beautifully honest. Nyman also talks about how high the suicide rate is in men because men find it so hard to just open up. They’re raised to not share their feelings, to hold them in and be tough. And ultimately, this is what it does.
I think this is a really powerful movie that I will absolutely watch again. I think a second viewing will be fun as I can start to spot the clues along the way that I ignored during my first viewing.
Overall, I highly recommend Ghost Stories and would love to hear what you think of this flick! Let me know in the comments below.