With a movie title like Ghost Stories, you’d expect a few decent frights. But this three-part British creepshow from writer-directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson is pretty light on scares and only hangs together with the thinnest (and hokiest) of narrative threads. The Brits, of course, have a long and proud history of chiller anthologies thanks to the once-thriving Amicus and Hammer studios. But none of that atmospheric sense of dread finds its way to the screen here. It’s oddly inert.
The set-up itself feels phoned in. Nyman stars as Professor Goodman, a paranormal debunker who is summoned to the shabby motor-trailer home of his idol (Leonard Byrne). The man is dying and his final request is to have Goodman look into three cases that he could never solve. So Goodman puts the case files into his knapsack and goes on his merry way like Little Red Riding Hood into a dark forest of the damned.
First up, is an alcoholic nightwatchman (Paul Whitehouse) who retells a strange shift years earlier when he was working at a derelict, abandoned former women’s insane asylum. That sure sounds promising enough. But the flashbacks to that night are the standard sub-Blumhouse array of shock sound effects and quick-cut flashes of a little girl in a yellow dress. The good news is Nyman and Dyson somehow restrained themselves from having a creepy child’s voice singing “Ring Around the Rosie” on the soundtrack.
In part two, Goodman shows up at the home of a paranoid and twitchy teen (Black Mirror’s Alex Lawther) who recounts a car accident he got into one night in the woods. It’s even less scary than it sounds, but Lawther is a highlight. Finally, in the closing (and least fleshed-out) chapter, Goodman visits a super-wealthy finance type (a Cheshire-grinning Martin Freeman) in the countryside and listens to his tale of woe, which involves a not-particularly-terrifying poltergeist.
With each patch of the quilt, you keep waiting for a twist or a jolt that never arrives. Somehow each one feels both slight and padded out. Ghost Stories tries to save things with a late-in-game freak-out twist, but it just feels like a oh-what-the-hell act of desperation. Usually in these omnibus types of movies, you expect to walk away saying that at least some sections worked. They’re almost always hit-and-miss affairs. But none of these ghost stories end up hitting. They’re all misses of varying degrees. C