Monday, 31 July 2017

Defective detective: "The Ghoul"

The strongest suit of Gareth Tunley's homegrown headtrip The Ghoul is its uncannily sure feel for the mean streets and shady backalleys of London, a hard place to inhabit at the best of times: as in Sean Spencer's impressive Panic from last year, the landscape our defective detective hero sets out into in some way reflects the darkness and uncertainty within him. (With its preference for night shoots and narrative ambiguity, we could call this cinema the anti-Notting Hill.) Interiors and exteriors come to be very closely linked in Tunley's film: hence the prominence afforded to a Klein bottle, the ornamental equivalent of a Moebius strip, in that it loops round to disappear inside itself, mirroring the shape of The Ghoul's own plot. 

If Tunley's exterior work generally proves assured and atmospheric, the interiors into which Tom Meeten's mournful investigator Chris ventures undercover can appear a little on the sketchy side. The shoestring budget makes itself most apparent in a therapist's office that really is just two office chairs in a room - a location where the doctor in residence (Niamh Cusack) helpfully points out where she keeps her patient notes, and even more helpfully leaves the room mid-session in order to take a telephone call. What Tunley looks to have taken from his executive producer Ben Wheatley is a conviction that aiming for cult status means you don't have to do anything so boringly literal as dotting and crossing your is and ts.

This director arms himself well, though, with recognisable faces, each possessed of enough wily screen experience to give individual scenes life. Meeten, eternally cowed and put-upon, is a usefully shifty, awkward presence: we can never quite be sure whether this crumpled figure is going to end up a homeless wretch or the new Nigel Havers. Typically solid contributions come from Dan Skinner and Alice Lowe as a married couple Chris becomes entangled with, and from Rufus Jones as a fellow paranoiac with a creepy lightswitch smile; best of all is Geoff McGovern as a mischievous rival shrink who encourages his charges to give their depression a proper name, like Derek. If it can occasionally be seen cutting a corner or two that probably needed extra time and money to be more carefully rounded off, the film never lacks for character, and displays a commendable economy, taking just 85 minutes to unravel what exactly is eating its protagonist up. Val Lewton, for one, would approve.

The Ghoul opens in selected cinemas from Friday.

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