The Ghoul Review
Writing about a film like The Ghoul can be tricky. The synopsis may look fairly straightforward but because the film wraps itself inside layers of coded ideas and suggestions, the fine line between explanation and spoiler territory becomes more precarious. You don't want to give too much away while at the same time withholding information that may pique people's interest. Gareth Tunley's debut film is something of a puzzle that shows flashes of Lynchian mystery and feels reminiscent of Nolan's low-fi thriller Following. Most of it is set inside the mind of a British police detective who sets about tracking down a suspect thought to be behind a strange double murder.
Tom Meeten is cast as Chris to play the aforementioned character, seemingly digging deep undercover to hunt out his man. Once he has identified who he believes to be responsible for the killings, Chris attends a psychotherapy session to gain access to the files held on the suspect. He appears to have both a personal and professional relationship with criminal profiler Kathleen (Alice Lowe) who helps him to shape the personality of the man Chris is hunting down. Strangely, Chris continues to attend the therapy sessions and the more he opens up, the more that reality and fantasy begins to merge.
The story flows steadily into psychological territory at this point and because the film is reliant on playing tricks with your perception, revealing anything further would only undermine it. The low-budget aesthetic doesn’t prevent Tunley (whose face you may recognise from numerous TV appearances while also featuring in Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers – Wheatley is also executive producer) from adding in the occasional stylistic flourish. Meeten broodily remains front and centre, often framed walking through built up areas of London’s urban streets, a dour hoodie keeping his eyes narrowly fixed to the floor.
Atmosphere is crucial to making a film like this work and that is where Tunley is unable to sustain the intrigue. Some of the earlier clues and continual references to merging symbols and Möbius strips may give the game away but the early sense of mystery eventually fades once you realise there isn’t much substance beyond the smoke and mirrors. Whether it’s Meeten’s strained performance or the script, it’s hard to tell, and with so much reliant on his character to make sense of the cryptic narrative, you rarely feel like you are absorbed within his unique world view.
Paul Kay makes a surprise cameo appearance in what turns out to be a show stealer and you have to wonder just why he hasn’t managed to break away from TV into more feature film work. While The Ghoul has its faults and ultimately doesn’t live up to its lofty ambitions, it reveals Tunley to be a director of some promise and you wonder what he could achieve with a larger budget at his disposal. At this stage, artistic credit may not count for as much as the film's financial return but hopefully Tunley will be given the chance to return and expand on his ideas.