I started last week with some American horror, so it’s only right that I start this one with some British horror. This is Ghost Stories!
IMDb summary: Arch sceptic Professor Phillip Goodman embarks upon a terror-filled quest when he stumbles across a long-lost file containing details of three cases of inexplicable ‘hauntings’.
- Ghost Stories was written and directed by Andy Nyman (who also played the lead) and Jeremy Dyson. Nyman has worked quite a lot alongside psychological illusionist Derren Brown and that collaboration has influenced a lot of projects, including Ghost Stories, which actually started as a play on West End (co-written by both Nyman and Dyson) and was adapted to film this year.
- For the first 70minutes of the movie, I thought that the writing for it was good but not particularly original. The psychic detective character was an interesting one to focus on and his family’s background was also quite fascinating and obviously important. The three cases themselves had some nice themes within (violence, psychosis, family drama) but they seemed quite typical for a horror movie. However, the reveals which occurred in the last 20 minutes completely changed my mind on the wiring: the rapid-fire reveals and explanations made the whole script way more genius than it seemed before. Basically, Ghost Stories had great ‘bigger picture’ writing with some good and some just okay details.
- Thematically, Ghost Stories asked whether the supernatural was real and I sort of think that it answered the question by saying that the psychological is the supernatural – inner demons result in outer ones. The second big thematic idea was the statement that things are not what they always seem and that was both true within each individual case and for a whole movie overall, as its story was not what it seemed at first. The finale with the main character being trapt in his own mind was the spookiest idea of the whole film.
- The direction of the movie was good too. The documentary-like style opening was cool and I wish that the whole picture continued to be filmed like that. The horror sequences were scary, disturbing and intense but not something one hasn’t seen (especially if you watch a lot of horror movies – I only see a few horror movies per year and I still didn’t found the horror in this one to be particularly original). I feel that the sequences were scarier when the actual supernatural figure wasn’t directly seen: I, personally, fear the unseen way more.
- Ghost Stories’ cast consisted of a writer/director Andy Nyman (with whose previous work I was unfamiliar with seeing this movie), Black Mirror’s and The End of a F***ing World’s Alex Lawther (he is amazing at playing characters on the cusp of a mental breakdown, like the ones in the aforementioned TV shows and this film), Martin Freeman (also known as a Tolkien white guy on Black Panther and my main drawn to this film), and Paul Whitehouse (The Death of Stalin). No female characters were present in the film.
In short, Ghost Stories is a spooky ride with some original packaging of familair (but still cool) ideas.
Trailer: Ghost Stories
One of the early potential awards contenders has premiered, thus, let’s evaluate its chances. This is the review of Goodbye Christopher Robin.
IMDb summary: A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.
- Goodbye Christopher Robin was written by a novelist and a British TV/movie writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce and a TV producer Simon Vaughan and directed by Simon Curtis (who previously directed My Week With Marilyn – one of my favorite films about the movie business). Curtis’s directing was very competent. He paced the movie neatly and made it feel like an old-school classical drama. The way he shifted the focus from one character to the next (from the father to the son) in the two halves of the movie was also an interesting choice.
- The script tackled a lot of topics and concept that all made up the incredible real-life story behind Winnie-the-Pooh. To being with, although, ultimately, this narrative was one of hope and happiness, it was framed by a feeling of dread and loss: the filmed opened with a scene that made the viewer believe that the real Christopher Robin had died at war, thus, the following long flashback (the rest of the film) felt like it was destined to end badly. However, the opening scene turned out to be bait-and-switch and the picture indeed had sort of happy ending – as happy as you can get in the real world.
- Additionally, Goodbye Christopher Robin had a lot to say about the middle/upper-class family relationships in the 20th century (and also now). First, the role of the nanny as ‘the true parent’ was portrayed explicitly. Also, an engaging message about motherhood was stated: how giving birth does not equal motherhood – one has to earn the right to call oneself a mother. The film also did a good job of portraying Milne’s PTSD and his ideas about/against the war(s).
- The film also examined the issues of creativity and commerce. The sequence of the writing of the books was really pleasant and sweet: it was also nice to notice the real-life details that inspired the plot-points in the books. The movie also did a good job of portraying the jealousy and the damage that comes with fame at a young age. Billy’s childhood was similar to that of contemporary children on reality TV (Toddlers and Tiaras, Dance Moms, etc.). Did the father appropriate his child’s childhood for profit? Was he right to do so in order to bring happiness to the masses? Is the happiness of many more worthy than the happiness of one? Robin’s experiences as a child and his desire for anonymity in the army as an adult sure made for a heartbreaking example cause and effect.
- Fox Searchlight has definitely assembled a stellar cast for this film, which delivered impeccable performances. Domhnall Gleeson (Anna Karenina, The Revenant, Star Wars, American Made, Mother!, Brooklyn, Unbroken) shined as the frustrated artist and the difficult father. Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, Tarzan) was equal amounts likable and despicable as Daphne. Kelly Macdonald (T2: Trainspotting) was amazing as the voice of reason and the source of heart (the nanny). However, all three of them seemed like they barely aged over the 3 decades – better make-up or some CGI would have been beneficial. Christopher Robin was played by two actors: the young Will Tilston, who looked like a real-life version of his character’s book counterpart (just brilliant casting), while Alex Lawther handled the more challenging grown-up scenes and displayed his acting talent that some of us have already had a glimpse of on Black Mirror (the ‘Shut Up and Dance’ episode).
In short, Goodbye Christopher Robin was well-made biographical drama, whose subject-matter was complex, layer, and fascinating. I’ll never look at Winnie-the-Pooh the same (a.k.a. as optimistically)….and I have its face of my duvet cover (waking up wrapped in depression?).
Trailer: Goodbye Christopher Robin trailer