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Gavin Schmitt

Blu-ray Review: "The Ghoul" (2016)

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A homicide detective (Tom Meeten) goes undercover as a patient to investigate a psychotherapist he believes is linked to a strange double murder. As his therapy sessions continue the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur.

Strangely, for a film this dark, the casting came from comedians who were working at the Edinburgh Festival. Their skits led to "The Baron" (2013), a comedic short film made for "a few hundred quid". This brought together Gareth Tunley and writer-actor Tom Meeten, as well as bringing in composer Waen Shepherd and producer Jack Healy Guttmann. It would be no exaggeration to say that "The Baron" was the test run for "The Ghoul", despite them having nothing in common thematically. Those involved believed that if Christopher Nolan could make "Following" with no budget, they could pull it off, too.

From the get-go, Waen Shepherd's score is reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti; interestingly, Catherine Bray thinks the film is "scary in the manner of David Lynch films, with the chills coming from a nightmarish repurposing of the mundane or suburban", so perhaps the score is intentional. Of course, Shepherd does much more than that -- he has provided just about every genre of music (60s pop to reggae) to the soundtrack.

The plot is defined as a cinematic Möbius strip by writer/director Gareth Tunley. This almost gives too much away, but at the same time is really at the heart of the film. The most interesting scene is the one where the various objects in the doctor's office are described: the mobius strip, the ouroboros (infinity snake), and so on... we are made quite aware of how important this is.

Let's look at the critics. Gareth Jones praises the film, with his only concern being that "it can occasionally find itself bogged down by its overly melancholy presentation and measured pacing". This is fair, though probably unavoidable. Bray compares the film favorably to Lynch's "Lost Highway", though she has concerns that the film "isn't the midnight horror romp its title may suggest", and this may cause it to connect poorly with audience expectations. True, the title may be misleading, but it has its own importance, too.

Stephen Dalton thinks the picture "feels a little too slight and cryptic to make any serious headway with mainstream genre fans... never quite delivers on its mind-bending promise." Yet, "Tunley confirms his mastery of macabre moods here. Now he needs a bigger budget and a broader canvas." Mainstream or not, it fits in well alongside films like "Timecrimes" that have us questioning the linear story-telling.

Peter Bradshaw may be the harshest critic, saying the movie "feels like a film-school project" that is "heartsinkingly pointless" and "takes us on a journey to nowhere." Not only is Bradshaw the most harsh, but the most off-base. While he may not be wrong, strictly speaking, the "pointlessness" is precisely the point! The film never sets up to tie everything up with a ribbon, and this may be its greatest strength: viewers are well-served to watch it twice or more to deepen comprehension.

Though Arrow Video specializes in bringing forgotten gems back to life, they do just as great of a job when they are working with contemporary titles like "The Ghoul". On their Blu-ray release, we get the filmmakers' commentary, interviews with most of the cast and crew (which are very insightful), and even "The Baron", the short film by Gareth Tunley, starring Tom Meeten and Steve Oram.

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