This psychological thriller appears to be half a film, or at least one episode of a ten-part TV series, and perhaps that is the point. It sees incompleteness as profundity, ambiguity as intelligence. The unreliable narrator is a timeworn device in contemporary fictions, and there is usually fun to be had in second-guessing character motivations. The Ghoul of the title is itself untraceable – a manifestation of mental illness, a supernatural entity, or a physical being bent by evil machinations. But by possibly being all of these, intrigue in the film is diluted. The allusions are unexplored rather than subtle, and the Ghoul becomes supplanted in our minds by the Goya etching, though the plot offers little in the way of monsters and less in the way of reason.
The opening is impressive: a suitably reticent detective, Chris (Tom Meeten), investigates a domestic crime scene. An intruder has shot two residents repeatedly. A basic forensics check estimates the pair did not die instantly; in fact, they inexplicably continued to approach the assailant after multiple, undoubtedly fatal, gunshot wounds. First-time filmmaker Gareth Tunley produces a sharp introduction here, and the scene seems to promise a conventional police procedural. Our expectations are quickly upended, however: Chris, he of moody silences and downward head tilt, begins to work undercover, attending the sessions of some dodgy psychotherapists (Niamh Cusack, Geoffrey McGivern) who are somehow linked to the case. Chris meets Coulson (Rufus Jones), a bipolar sufferer also under the therapists’ care, who believes that the therapists’ motives transcend the merely criminal.
Tunley clearly joys in obfuscating Chris’s fluctuating descent into deceit, the occult and clinical illness. But while discarding a conventional plot structure, Tunley never truly embraces the strangeness of his protagonist’s psyche. The suburban noir setting is altered by camera shifts that are irritating rather than bizarre, the representation of depression sometimes feels slightly broad, and one of the supposedly sinister characters spouts Partridge-isms that induce hilarity instead of unease. Budget constraints are no doubt an issue in some respects, but the film’s lack of focus seems to run deeper: it is dour when it should be arresting and subdued where it should be fantastical.
The Ghoul does not have a UK release date yet.
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