Those seeking big-time scares or dazzling effects won’t find them in “Ghost Stories,” Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s adaptation of their true-to-its-title hit play. Opening Friday at the Opera Plaza, the movie, regardless, is spooky fun, and something a little truer and deeper.
Horror enthusiasts Nyman and Dyson have made a very British, genre-embracing, modestly scaled creeper, for which they’ve credited everything from anthology films like “Dead of Night” to works by Dario Argento to theme-park rides as inspiration.
Nyman also stars, playing Professor Philip Goodman, the sort of self-important skeptic that horror fiction loves to unnerve.
Goodman, a bearded debunker of paranormal-activity claims, gets more than he expected when he accepts a challenge to discredit three seemingly indisputable reports of hauntings.
Each involves a shaken man whose ghostly experience the filmmakers dramatize, flashback style.
Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse), a night watchman at an abandoned asylum, describes encountering terrifying demons at the site.
Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther), a shaky young man, tells Goodman about a beast that terrified him in the forest.
Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman), a former banker, recalls the poltergeist that invaded his mansion.
Goodman deems the men delusional — all have experienced domestic stress or tragedy.
But slowly, Goodman, too, is seeing apparitions, including a spectral version of himself.
Are these bona-fide ghosts? Or are they imagined, resulting from emotional demons?
The movie’s not a blood-curdler and visual effects are so-so at best.
The individual stories are too sketchy to hit dramatically hard. The final act, with a David Lynch-style twist — leading us to question everything we’ve seen — suffers from insufficient clarity and ridiculousness.
But logic is hardly the defining factor of horror fiction, and Dyson and Nyman have too much fun with the genre to frustrate us for long.
Packed with jump scares, cryptic clues, eerie beings, references to other horror fare and stand-alone, head-shaking weirdness (Simon’s dysfunctional parents staring at the wall, their backs turned to their houseguest), the movie is an entertainingly creepy little chill ride laced with psychodrama.
It is scariest when dealing with buried secrets and how trauma can warp one’s perception of reality.
If the filmmakers want it both ways — the ghosts seem both real and imagined, depending on whose story is transpiring — they deftly pull it off.
The actors have a blast and take their roles seriously. Nyman, Whitehouse and Freeman are top-rate, but Lawther, playing the spooked, jittery Simon, steals the movie, his crazed smile more disturbing than the horned beast haunting him. His eureka moment — when Simon locates a cell-phone signal in the isolated forest — is precious.
Starring: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther
Written and directed by: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes