Psychological thrillers can sometimes be an unintentional mixed bag, (no) thanks in part to a certain segment of the moviegoer audience who want everything explained to them in easy to digest (and too easy to debate after the fact) format. If this core doesn’t “get” a film’s intentions, they’ll pounce and trounce it online despite some fine efforts by the filmmakers and solid work by its cast.
On the other hand, those who love these “pay attention” films will very likely have a grand time with Gareth Tunley’s The Ghoul and its troubled lead excellently played by Tom Meeten (Sightseers). For a super-low budget film, there’s a lot of impact in the visuals as well as a compelling power to the plot and acting that add that extra kick to things. It’s also a film where you’ll find a few similarities to other memorable psychological thrillers from the past while appreciating the twists and turns Tunley and company bring to the table in the present. It’s also one of those films where telling too much of the plot kind of ruins the experience, so a bit of vagueness is in order here.
Chris (Meeten), a former police detective, is called to a crime scene by fellow detective Jim (Dan Renton Skinner) to the scene after a double murder but discovers a few odd things about the events as explained. A bit of moody head-scratching and a visit to a psychological profiler Kathleen (Alice Lowe) leads Chris to go undercover as a therapy patient in order to gain information about Coulson, a potential suspect in the crime (Rufus Jones). The therapist, Alice (Niamh Cusack) takes on our dour protagonist as a new patient and while he’s initially not very talkative, things start happening as Chris starts to open up and the plot starts creeping into the subtly strange. Meanwhile, he also strikes up an initially tense friendship with Coulson after tailing him and being discovered.
After about a month of sessions, Alice falls ill but recommends Chris continue his sessions with Morland (Geoffrey McGivern), a quirky and somewhat crass therapist whose unorthodox methods and interesting book collection gets Chris to open up even more. Coulson is also seeing Morland, but seems to be doing worse overall, calling and texting Chris multiple times with weird warnings. Chris also has to deal with his own reality unfolding as things aren’t initially what they seemed (maybe) and a bit of supernatural forces slide the last portion of the film into even more brain-twisting territory.
Without more than slick edits, lots of tight shots and the occasional wide shot of London as day and night backdrop, the film looks great overall with only a few intentionally shaky movements when required for certain moods. Acting is solid throughout, but it’s Meeten’s meetings with McGivern’s Morland which make the film. “Trousers down, half a crown!” is his initial greeting to Chris, followed soon after by asking is he wants a cup of “regular tea… or gay tea” Um… Yay, therapy? Chris’ relationship with Kathleen as well as a few other characters gets somewhat bizarre as well, but that’s because the film is played from Chris’ ever-changing mental state and well, he’s a bit skewed.
When the mystery is finally revealed, it may not quite be apparent if you haven’t been paying attention, but it’s there. In fact, the film’s only fault to my eyes is it frequently forecasts the finale if your brain has been dropping all the pieces into place with all those hints delivered as things progress. Yes, it’s a slow burner with a wind-up pitch to a “Well, huh?” ending. Overall, The Ghoul isn’t ghoulish at all (in fact, it’s a bloodless brain-twister) it’s well made and smart through and through with a score by Waen Shepherd that’s got a bit of a Bernard Herrmann influence to it (which is a good thing when it’s done well).
Special features include a lengthy (and almost too chatty) making of feature, a great commentary track and an even greater short film, The Baron where Tom Meeten plays a daydreaming office worker who attempts to get revenge on a few people in real life with hilarious results. It’s a kick seeing him as this more amusing character, but I ended up wondering how the main attraction would have played with The Baron in full regalia doing his thing. I’d imagine at some point Hollywood might be interested in sending out what, six to nine writers to wreck this into a different and more violent remake at some point. But we’ll see how that turns out if the film becomes a bit too popular for its own good.
Score (B+ 85%)
Review copy provided by the publisher