The Ghoul – UK, 2016

‘I know its name’

The Ghoul is a British psychological thriller written and directed by former actor (Sightseers) Gareth Tunley. It stars Alice Lowe (Prevenge; The World’s EndSightseers), Tom Meeten (Burke & Hare), Paul Kaye (Dracula Untold; Blackwood; WΔZ), Niamh Cusack (Hereafter), Geoffrey McGivern, Dan Renton Skinner, and Waen Shepherd.

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Review:

With Ben Wheatley as executive producer, Alice Lowe as one of the stars and all their comedy chums either starring or behind the scenes, this seemed on the surface likely to be another self-indulgent, emptily pretentious affair – a prospect that was not particularly appealing.

However, The Ghoul is much better than anything that the rest of that entourage have done – a dark, endlessly bleak effort from first-time feature director Gareth Tunley that twists and turns, mixing psychological horror (let’s have none of the mealy-mouthed ‘psychological thriller’ guff that everyone involved comes out with in the making-of documentary) with occult themes to create something that keeps you guessing way after the film is over.

Chris (Tom Meeten) is a police detective investigating a double murder with supernatural overtones, who goes undercover as a depressive in order to investigate a suspect’s psychotherapists, including the eccentric, occult-obsessed Dr. Morland. Or he might be an actual depressive, fantasising about being an undercover police
officer. Or he might be some combination of the two.

The film seamlessly moves from one personality to the other, so that you are unaware of the switch and unsure about which character is real – as, indeed, is Chris himself by the end of the film. The real clues come in the obsession with loops, and the idea of turning something (or someone) inside out and ending up back where you started.

Mixing elements of madness with folk horror, The Ghoul is a grim affair, and one that many film festival viewers found too alienating to sit through. Yet, there’s something impressive here if you stick with it. Ambiguous, challenging and unsettling, this shows that British genre films can push the envelope without disappearing up their own backside, and sits alongside The Devil’s Business and The Borderlands – two other superior recent British horror films – as a fascinatingly subtle and inventive take on occultism.

David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA

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Other reviews:

“It relates a little to Kill List (in which Tunley plays the priest) but also slots comfortably in with a run of Brit-noir pictures with supernatural twists (The Glass ManA Dark SongHyenaThe MessengerThe Devil’s Business). There’s a state-of-the-nation aspect to these stories of psychological isolation, and minds cracking as cities decay and social ties are sundered — the horror film offshoots of Broken Britain or Brexit.” Kim Newman, Empire

“A splendidly twisty low-budget head-scratcher … The Ghoul is an auspicious debut that announces a new voice in British filmmaking. Get in on the ground floor and catch his debut now.” Film4

“The title suggests an orgy of the undead loaded with jump scares, but this is a more restrained and more disturbing proposition. The monster here is metaphorical: part depression, part manic obsession.” Ed Potton, The Times

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“The press release compares The Ghoul to Roeg and Cammell’s Performance and Lynch’s Lost Highway and while those comparisons are valid, Gareth Tunley’s film really is its own, special, weird thing and as such is definitely worth checking out.” John Llewellyn Probert, House of Mortal Cinema

The Ghoul is an effective exercise in controlled suspense and gradually intensifying weirdness, but it never quite delivers on its mind-bending promise. While Tunley proves adept at investing drab rooms and rainy streets with a steady hum of low-level menace, his squeezed budget inevitably saps some of the story’s potential energy.” Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter

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