How Does The Ghost Stories Film Build On The Play?

I was lucky enough to see the European premiere of Ghost Stories (Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, 2017) at the 2017 London Film Festival and it easily became one of my favourite horror films. It’s a multilayered text which seems to effortlessly glide to it’s conclusion. I was unaware until attending the premiere that there was a play the film was based on, and it wasn’t until earlier this year that I was able to finally see the play and honestly…I was really surprised. The film is very faithful to the play, many scenes are simply recreated in the film when I thought considering the secrecy of the marketing for both texts there would be more difference. There will be spoilers for both the play and the film in this post.

While both texts of Ghost Stories are very similar, what effects the texts the most is the length time. While the play is 80 minutes, the film is 20 minutes longer, which allows for more exposition. This exposition is portrayed in the film is shown through the proxy of Professor Charlie Cameron. Not only does this set the film up in a different way to the play (the play is laid out as a lecture with Nyman’s character Professor Goodman explaining cases he couldn’t explain while the film shows Cameron setting Goodman on this quest), it also changes how we see Goodman. Cameron is a proxy for Goodman’s insecurities, which reworks how the text moves into the climax. It also allows the audience to see Goodman how Goodman sees himself, furthering his characterisation. Using Cameron as a proxy allows the filmmakers to explore Goodman’s character further in a way that the length of the play does not allow the play to do, and by extension, the extra length of the film and the extra characterization allows for a more dramatic climax.

The play is restricted by how much they are able to show on stage, whereas a film is more free and not limited. Due to this, the filmmakers are able to make the climax bigger and more intense, which further emphasises the dream-like state Professor Goodman spends the film in. In particular the film and play start to split after the Simon Rifkind case; it is at this stage in the film where Goodman starts experience strange things such as seeing his own spirit in the car. The film also unexpectedly jumps to introducing Mike Priddle in a field with no introduction like there has been for the last two stories, indicating that the longer that Goodman’s mind is trapped in this circular investigation, he starts to unconsciously put the pieces together. This is done differently in the play perhaps due to the limitations of theatre; while the audience start to understand that Goodman is not quite right, Goodman doesn’t understand until the climax.

While both texts are very similar, the freedom of the medium of feature film allows the creators to further explore character motivations, enriching the text and giving the audience a different experience.

What do you think about this film? Do you agree with my analysis or do you disagree?

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