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Ghost Stories

In 2010, Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman's ruthlessly efficient horror anthology Ghost Stories scared audiences out of their seats at Liverpool Playhouse before transferring to London. The ingenious marketing for the play, which strongly advised "those of a nervous disposition to think very seriously before attending", incorporated night-vision footage of ticket holders cowering behind coats and whimpering in the dark. Sitting in the auditorium was an electrifying experience - you could feel the hairs standing up on the back of everyone's neck as primal fears were ruthlessly exploited on the stage for maximum nail-biting impact. The production deservedly became a word-of-mouth sensation, leading to two separate year-long stints in the West End and a tour of Australia. The big screen adaptation of Ghost Stories, written and directed by Dyson and Nyman, doesn't come close to replicating the trickles of sweat of the stage version but is, nevertheless, a well-crafted exercise in smoke and mirrors. Running time has been expanded - the theatrical incarnation was a sinewy 80 minutes without interval - to allow the filmmakers to embellish the framing device that loosely connects three spooky tales of loss, regret and things that go bump in the night. Philip Goodman (Nyman) is a professor of psychology who dedicates his life to debunking supernatural phenomena through the rigorous appliance of science on his TV show, Psychic Frauds. He answers a cryptic call to arms from his ageing idol Charles Cameron (Leonard Byrne), who implores Goodman to revisit three old cases. "I look back at my work now with absolute shame," confesses Cameron. "I need you to tell me I'm wrong." As requested, Goodman meets night security guard Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse), emotionally volatile student Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther) and oily businessman Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman) to discuss and dissect their harrowing experiences. Flashbacks bring to life these unsettling interludes including Simon's ill-fated drive through woods at night, which culminates in a head-on collision with a demonic, horned beast. Goodman listens intently to each testimony and observes the obvious distress of the subjects, but his belief in science and rigorous logic is undimmed. "There is nothing in these stories that can't be explained away by an intelligent five-year-old," he declares. In his haste to pass judgement, Goodman might have overlooked one tantalising piece of evidence... Ghost Stories doesn't stray too far from its stage origins, investing each yarn with cinematic flourishes. A pervading air of impending doom, which hung thickly inside the theatre auditorium, is but a gentle breeze on screen and scares are in short supply. Performances are solid and the script sustains momentum before delivering a satisfying sting in the tail.