This week, we were lucky enough to attend a preview screening of Gareth Tunley’s debut feature film, The Ghoul. Mog made a few notes…
Starring Tom Meeten, and with a cast that includes Alice Lowe, Dan Skinner, Rufus Jones, Paul Kaye, Waen Shepherd (who also scores the film – but more of that later), Rachel Stubbings, Sean Reynard and Geoffrey McGivern, The Ghoul reads a bit like a who’s who of The Velvet Onion. The turn out at this week’s screening was also something of a TVO roll-call: in the audience we spotted Gareth, Tom, Waen, Sean – plus their comedy colleagues Tony Way, Dan Clark, Dave Brown, Jim Howick, Mat Baynton, Alex Kirk, Rich Glover, Steve Oram, Bob Pipe, Katy Brand and Mercedes Grower. Phew! There’s clearly a lot of love and support out there for Gareth’s latest filmic endeavour.
If it looks like I’m trying to avoid talking about the film, you’d be half-right; not because I have nothing to say about it (quite the contrary), but because by describing The Ghoul one risks spoiling it for others. So I’ll do my best to navigate the flimsy line between explaining enough and explaining too much.
The premise of the film, and the manner in which it reveals itself, is subtle, clever and mind-bending. It’s best experienced first hand, through the unreliable perspective of the main protagonist, Chris, played with skill and sensitivity by Tom Meeten.
Billed as a film about a detective who goes undercover as a psychotherapy patient in an attempt to solve an unusual double murder case, The Ghoul is no CSI. Instead it’s a fascinating study of the human mind, and a gripping portrayal of how events can be interpreted and reinterpreted, depending on the perspective bestowed on a person by their psychological make-up. As we watch Chris delve further into the case, he begins to lose his grip on reality, eventually questioning whether the entire investigation may just be a fabrication of his mind.
But we don’t just sit there and watch Chris unravelling in front of us; what makes this film particularly resonant is the parallel journey that we, the viewer, are taken on. Cleverly avoiding the obvious signposting of the traditional ‘rug pull’, the world presented to us in The Ghoul gently starts to come apart – until we too, start to wonder what’s real. Each character and scenario arrives on screen seemingly clearly defined and vividly-depicted…until indecipherable flickers of ambiguity quietly creep in, and they’re not. The real skill is how Gareth and his team have been able to maintain a narrative coherence and structure at the same time. Clever stuff.
Chris’s detachment from reality is reinforced by filmic techniques which also provide visual texture: hazy lights, drifting skyscapes and a barely noticeable absence of others. The London we see is at once dramatically beautiful and starkly non-human; everyday normal – and yet anything but. The variation in mood across the film is punctuated and amplified by a fantastic score from Waen Shepherd. Necessarily present, but never intrusive, the music carries the narrative perfectly, gradually tightening as the tension builds. Check it out: you can listen to the tracks (and read about each one) here.
I approached The Ghoul wondering whether I would be able to see beyond Tom’s comedy credentials and accept him in a dramatic straight role. Within the first few minutes, any doubts are blasted clean out of the water. Tom is a great physical comedian; here he redirects his physicality into the manifestation of a man at the edge – and the result is utterly believable. Side-stepping the cliched depictions of mental decline that are too often served up in cinema, Tom manages to define his character’s complex emotional state in subtle ways, somehow changing the very footprint of his corporeal presence. For anyone who has had the misfortune to be around depression, it’s exactly that – perfectly observed and replayed.
The rest of the cast deserve a shout out too: they are all excellent, but Rufus Jones warrants a special mention; the film literally fizzes when he’s on screen.
Gareth’s vision was to create a film with production values that far surpassed its budget, and here he has succeeded. The Ghoul is an fantastic cinematic achievement, and the team’s passion, care and dedication shine through. At the time of writing there are no firm plans for other screenings, but we’ll be sure to let you know as soon as any are confirmed.
In the meantime, keep peeling for more news about The Ghoul, including an exclusive interview with its director, Mr Tunley himself – coming soon. Until then, check out our chat with Tom about the film, and the first teaser below: