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Directed by Gareth Tunley.
Starring: Tom Meeten, Dan Skinner, Alice Lowe, Rufus Jones
Review by Simon Ramshaw.
Fresh off the scene that has given us what appears to be a new wave of British ‘Midnight Movies’, actor Gareth Tunley follows in the footsteps of compatriots Ben Wheatley and Alice Lowe by directing the psychological chiller, The Ghoul. Definitely tapping into the same vein as Kill List and even David Lynch’s (massively underrated) Lost Highway, The Ghoul weaves the intricate tale of Chris – a police detective who goes undercover as a man with clinical depression, to investigate the titular ghoul; a slimy, evasive property agent who has a morbid fascination with crime scenes. However, fantasy and reality begin to blend as Chris goes deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, until he genuinely can’t remember how he got there in the first place.
It’s here that The Ghoul’s main problem lies. It’s a film that attempts some tricky narrative shifts at numerous points, but it hobbles straight out of the gate in a way that utterly confuses the viewer. Before the audience has got used to one narrative thread, it backs away from it at a rate of knots, not allowing any investment or narrative hook before it changes its focus to another. You eventually find your footing when Chris is referred to a second psychiatrist (played with sinister vigour by Geoffrey McGivern), but by that point the film is suffocated with ideas about the occult as well as its own fascinations between Chris’ true character and his troubled persona. It all gives way to a last minute sprint towards the finish line, where the film explodes with energy and experiments with some beautiful visual trickery. However, when all is said and done, the film hasn’t really made you think any thought other than ‘Eh?’
The Ghoul might be bolstered by entertaining and committed performances (Tom Meeten is a compelling presence as Chris), but this is often all it has to get by with. There is an oddly gripping centrepiece in the form of wigged-out drug dealer Tommy (Paul Kaye of Dennis Pennis and Game of Thrones fame) telling the tale of a debt payment gone wrong, yet the film fails to coalesce these interesting vignettes into anything more than a passing curio. This may be partly down to the extremely tight running time of 85 minutes, which doesn’t allow the film much breathing space to let its ideas grow and actually give a reason for them. The Q&A after the screening found Gareth Tunley explaining that he was surprised how prevalent the theme of mental illness was during the process of making the film, but it uses mental illness simply as a stepping stone to deal with random ideas deeply ingrained in the British folk horror genre. Yet at the end of the day, the film fails to find a true reason to deal with the issue it raises, and is left as an empty exercise in manipulating narrative structure.
There are component pieces of a solid film here, but this is unfortunately simply a passing spectre of a film; strange and unsettling, but ultimately completely ephemeral.