The Ghoul (2016) written and directed by Gareth Tunley
Harry J. Ford of Ford On Film looks at this Lynchian thriller written and directed by Gareth Tunley. His blog is here:
Joining the likes of Ben Wheatley’s Down Terrace and Gerard Johnson’s Tony, Gareth Tunley’s directorial debut The Ghoul is another microbudget look at the seedy, scuzzy characters who slip through the cracks of society. Chris (Tom Meeten), an off-duty detective, is led by fellow detective Jim (Dan Skinner) into what appears to be a routine murder scene. The catch? After being shot multiple times by the suspect, the victims continued walking.
Linking the murders to a man obsessed with crime scenes (Rufus Jones) and his therapist Fisher (Niamh Cusack), Chris goes undercover, playing an unemployed waster in need of therapy. Revealing his fantasy of pretending to be a detective, the reality of the film crumbles as characters quickly begin to change. Is Chris really a depressed misfit, spending his days roaming the streets of London? Why is Jim suddenly a swaggering salesman cheating on his wife, Chris’ love interest Kathleen (Alice Lowe)? And who is the mysterious Morland (Geoffrey McGivern), the psychotherapist obsessed with loops and alchemy?
From the opening shots of the motorway at night, it’s clear that Tunley is making his own low budget version of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, an astonishingly ambitious idea for a first-time filmmaker. While ultimately his ideas are thwarted by the budget, The Ghoul is certainly more original than most British crime films of recent years. With a cast of actors known primarily for comedy, Tunley creates an unpredictable atmosphere, with every character slipping between multiple personalities. Meeten (who also executive-produced) is convincing as a man losing his grip on reality, while Alice Lowe excels at playing the straight man for once and Paul Kaye has a terrific cameo as a demented drug dealer. However, the highlight of the film by far is McGivern, having the time of his life as the seemingly-friendly therapist who raises the film’s central mysteries of möbius strips and paradoxical bottles. Playing the role as if he’s your favourite uncle, McGivern just about sells the more bizarre elements of the script while injecting an otherwise grim film with much-needed levity.
Where The Ghoul falters is in its script. Unlike directors like Lynch, who guide the audience through bizarre stories with a touch of surrealism, Tunley’s film feels simply incomprehensible. There’s talk of mind loops and hypnosis and immortality, but it never feels as if it goes anywhere. The lack of cohesion or understanding boosts The Ghoul as a mystery, especially in its Mulholland Drive-inspired, living nightmare ending, but the film falls off the rails anytime it tries to make sense of itself. Working with the tiniest of budgets, Tunley does provide some impressively-disturbing imagery and clever editing, but there’s also an amateurish quality to the cinematography, which often ends up distracting from the on-screen action.
While The Ghoul isn’t the greatest directorial debut or the grandest showcase of Gareth Tunley’s talents, it’s still an engrossing psychological thriller, with more ideas and ambition than most first features. The strong cast and hypnotic editing don’t quite conceal the lack of budget or the confusing narrative, but there’s enough personality and talent on display to make Tunley worth keeping your eye on. Ben Wheatley followed up Down Terrace with the astonishing Kill List; maybe with a little more money, Tunley can do the same.
Watch a trailer:
Runtime: 85 mins
Dir: Gareth Tunley
Script: Gareth Tunley
Starring: Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe, Rufus Jones, Naimh Cusack, Geoffrey McGivern