It’s not often I write about modern films here at The Churchyard, the only other time I’ve done this was a quick off-the-cuff piece when I got back from seeing Alice Lowe’s directorial debut, Prevenge.
Having just got back from seeing The Ghoul it’s time for another equally off-the-cuff piece.
The Ghoul, written and directed by Gareth Tunley and starring Tom Meeten, is a remarkable thing. On the surface it is an occult thriller; Meeten plays Chris, a detective investigating a bizarre double murder and, as part of the investigation, goes undercover as a patient with the suspect’s psychotherapist to glean information. However, this plot, through its exploration of Jungian theories, possible demonic forces and Austin Osman Spare based Sigil Magic, exists solely as a framework for the underlying exploration of mental illness.
As the film progresses we find that Chris’ story is not as simple as it at first seems as Tunley takes us on a journey along a Moebius Strip of despair and paranoia, disorientating the viewer by turning the tale on its head as we delve deeper into the protagonist’s psyche. Like the Moebius Strip itself, which is constantly referenced within the story, this film is unorientable.
If you like your films to have a linear plotline with a simple resolution to tie things up then this film may not be for you. If, like me, you relish films which reflect the ambiguity and unresolvedness of real life then you will probably enjoy this film. I say ‘enjoy’, but is this the correct word to use? The film is relentlessly bleak and disturbing, this is not cinema as a mere entertainment, it is cinema as an experience. Think David Lynch’s first feature, Eraserhead. In one scene of The Ghoul we have a prolonged, lingering view of a completely bare section of shabby, woodchip-paper covered wall with the only feature being the join separating two strips; add to this the oppressive soundtrack and theme of the protagonist being cast adrift within his own troubled mind and it’s not difficult to imagine that Tunley may have been influenced by that first feature of Lynch’s.
It’s a pleasure to see this burgeoning new wave of British film-makers. Ben Wheatley seems to be at the forefront of, and giving credence to, these experimental films with limited budgets (Wheatley acts as Executive Producer on The Ghoul) and several of the cast members are connected with him in some way. Tunley himself appeared in Down Terrace and Kill List; Tom Meeten appeared in Sightseers and Alice Lowe’s Prevenge; Alice Lowe co-wrote and starred in Sightseers; Dan Skinner was also in Prevenge and also appeared in High Rise.
While talking about the supporting cast we should also mention the brilliantly disturbing Paul Kaye who punctuates the film midway with a bizarrely captivating storytelling sequence.
Even with this strong supporting cast the film really belongs to Tom Meeten. He gives an extraordinarily hypnotic performance as someone dealing with serious mental health issues, at once menacingly brooding and vulnerable.
I understand it was a long struggle to get this film released, but I’m glad it has been; we have a real talent in both Tunley and Meeten and hopefully, with The Ghoul, they will have their feet firmly in the door of the industry.
Films like this will always have a limited cinema release but, if you’re not lucky enough to get to see it on the big screen, the brilliant Arrow Films are releasing it on Blu-Ray and DVD on the 4th of September.