The grey, dull, dreary atmosphere of a typical cloudy afternoon in the north of Britain makes the perfect setting for British independent drama/ horror The Ghoul. This isn’t a fun movie by any means, but it’s one that feels unique and special in its own right.
Perhaps you aren’t in any way familiar with the depressive, grey feeling this film aims to capture, in which case you may struggle to see its appeal. It features a detective who goes undercover as a man in need of counselling, to try getting close to a murder suspect. To aid his cover story he gets into character by pretending to have ‘dysthymia’ – basically, chronic depression – a condition I myself am all-too-familiar with. This is a condition with which one can appear to function normally; it doesn’t incapacitate you in the way that a major depressive episode would, yet it just… kind of sucks the joy out of everyday life. It makes everything around you seem a little more… grey, dull. The world appears to lack colour, or general ‘feeling’. And this is the essence that The Ghoul as a film manages to communicate, not just through its central character but in how he perceives his surroundings.
Over time this character, simply named Chris (Tom Meeten), appears to lose track of what was the deception and what is reality; he essentially seems to become what he was pretending to be. We witness his own struggle, his own descent into mental illness. The backdrop to this is an ambiguous plot featuring a couple of psychotherapists (those who are ‘treating’ Chris) dabbling in the occult. Director Gareth Tunley cleverly leaves his film open-ended, to the point where we are unsure whether there is something weird going on, or if it’s simply the hallucinogenic imaginings of the main character as he gradually loses his grip on reality.
The film’s title, The Ghoul, is equally ambiguous, though for me it referred to the depressive condition at its centre. At one point Chris himself describes his depression as a ‘ghoul’, as if it’s an unseen phantom haunting him, when he is pushed by one of his therapists to put how he’s feeling into words. And depression is like this; many have described it as such before, like a shadow that hangs over them, weighing them down.
At a compact 81 minutes the film thankfully doesn’t drag us along for too long, for while it is an intriguing experience, it is not one that would’ve lent itself well to a long running time. Gareth Tunley, a long-time collaborator of Ben Wheatley, was nominated for the BIFA (British Independent Film Awards) Debut Screenwriter award for his work on this; his first feature as a director. It’s worth keeping one eye on what he does next, just as it is worth keeping an eye out for possible future screenings of The Ghoul at a cinema near you.
8 / 10