They say that ‘comedy is tragedy plus time’. There is something in that; there is a fine line between funny and sad. It is probably also true that comedians have a dark, depressing world view. I mean you see it most obviously in the work of Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith as League of Gentlemen; you see it Charlie Brooker’s work on Yearly Wipe and Black Mirror and perhaps the newest movement in British Horror cinema. This movement could be the result of two different influences; the first is the weird comedy of a bunch of comedians who came together to form a response to America’s Saturday Night Live entitled Ealing Live, which would go on to spur on the careers of people like Adam Buxton and Simon Farnaby. Many of the people involved in Ealing Live also worked with a little known British Horror director Ben Wheatley, whose low budget production would go on to inspire Alice Lowe to make Prevenge, another great indie horror film. The newest result of these collaborators is The Ghoul, directed and written Ealing Live alum Gareth Tunley, and starring Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe, and Dan Renton Skinner.
Chris is investigating a double homicide in London. However, it is a case that has a few odd details, namely that the victims continued to move toward the perpetrator despite multiple gunshot wounds. To investigate a suspect he needs to go undercover and pretend to be a patient at the same therapist’s office. However, his fake life and real life merge and blur into one as he is confronted with a man obsessed with conspiracy, and a therapist with an interest in the occult.
I brought up Ben Wheatley and Alice Lowe’s film Prevenge not only because I wanted to make fancy academic assertions that these things constitute a new art movement within British Horror cinema, but as a point of stylistic and tonal comparison. It is shot almost guerrilla style with drab muted colours and a handheld camera. It grounds the film in a sort of reality that adds to the strangeness as Chris descends into a dark undercurrent of the occult and paranoia. Many will say that it looks untidy, but I would argue that it is both the point of the film and the movement it belongs to. The unsteady camera reflects Chris’ position in his world, balancing precariously on a small tightrope of sanity teetering a fall into madness without any net. The roughness of the film also reflects the low budget; this movement harkens back, I think, to a do-it-yourself approach reminiscent of the Punk subculture.
Despite the quite shaky camerawork the film still looks great on the Blu-ray produced by Arrow Video. When the film does break into more psychological art territory, like the Hitchcock break that you find in most of The Master of Suspense films (shots like the mirror break in The Wrong Man, zooming into the hair in Vertigo and the plughole in Psycho), the film’s 1080p presentation looks stunning. It is inspiring that a film made with this low a budget looks this good and is still this coherent. This is probably because of the filmmakers’ focus on tone and atmosphere, with a combination of drab cinematography and a haunting score by Waen Shepherd which jacks straight into your hindbrain with a 5.1 audio presentation, The Ghoul tries its hardest to keep the tension and atmosphere going.
It is a strange tale that you think is going one way, but really it takes you down a path that you would never have expected. It has a melancholic, sedate tone that is more unsettling than outright scary, that is until the very end, similar to the executive producer’s Kill List. This is helped by a tight focus on our central character Chris, who becomes the audience point of view interacting with these seemingly normal characters. Like Steven Sheehan mentioned in his review of the film last month, we can’t go too far into the plot because any more hints and clues planted in this, or his, or any review could ruin the experience.
Admittedly The Ghoul does have its problems. When we do finally reach the climax, the film really shows its low budget colours, and it becomes a little bit cheap and odd. It does a better job in the build-up and less so with the reveal. The other major problem is the performances. This may have been down to the script or the amount of time there was to shoot, but all of the acting felt a little flat. I mean there are great bits, Paul Kaye has an amazing cameo, and Geoffrey McGivern is remarkable as Morland, another therapist, but the central performance from Tom Meeten was a little too breathy for me to get fully involved in his plight. It is clear that there is potential in this film, the atmosphere is wonderful and the ideas are there, but when it came down to the execution it misses the mark right at the end. However, despite this, I would still recommend The Ghoul. It is something that is remarkably unique and interesting in its own flawed way and I wait expectantly hoping that this team makes more films soon.
Moving on from the film itself, Arrow has done a great job in the making of this release. There are no sound or video errors, the menus are easy to operate, and the subtitles are clear, which can be especially useful as the cast can get a little mumbly. Arrow has also put a good number of extras on the disc, including commentaries, Making Ofs and a short film made by Tom Meeten and Gareth Tunley called The Baron, which gives some clues as to the origins of The Ghoul and the odd sense of humour that all those involved with this movement have.
Arrow as a company have been producing and distributing films that I personally enjoy for a multitude of reasons and full of extras that enhance the viewing experience and here with this release, they do so again. They have taken an independent British horror-thriller and placed it within a context that I find enjoyable. The Ghoul is definitely flawed but if you enjoyed the films of Ben Wheatley and Prevenge then you owe it to yourself to track it down as it is a film that will work its way into your brain and stay with you for weeks after seeing it.
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