Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Ghoul: Head-Shrinking and Mind-Bending

You can definitely call this deep cover. The morose looking Chris is either an undercover investigator feigning severe depression to investigate a pair of nefarious shrinks or he is an emotional basket case who frequently gets lost in fantasies of undercover police work. Frankly, viewers will be completely unable to parse reality from fantasy and he is just as lost himself in Gareth Tunley’s head-spinning The Ghoul (trailer here), which opens in select markets tomorrow.

As the film opens, Chris has no reason to doubt he is a former cop, who took the fall for some sort of departmental scandal, but is brought back in from time to time in an off-the-books capacity. His ex-partner Jim has such a case. A couple fell victim to a double homicide, but from the evidence they were suspiciously hard to kill, like junkies hopped up on PCP, except sturdier and cleaner. It turns out the property was managed by one Coulson, a well-heeled playboy with a history of “pushing” the impressionable to commit anti-social crimes.

Coulson makes himself scarce, but a search of his flat reveals he has been seeing an analyst by the name of Fisher, but she might have referred him to her mentor, Alexander Morland. Chris will follow in Coulson’s footsteps, pretending to suffer from long-term debilitating depression with coaching from Jim’s wife Kathleen, a psychiatric nurse for whom he has long carried a torch. Except, Chris isn’t really faking it that much. No matter who the real Chris is, he obviously has trouble enjoying the little things in life. As his treatment progresses, it becomes unclear whether the assumed persona is indeed fake or if it is part of an elaborate fantasy life he has constructed. Of course, he too will inevitably be referred to Morland.

The Ghoul is not merely another Lynchian reality-problematizer. The villainy Tunley suggests could be afoot just might be a new one on us. It is hard to explain without getting spoilery, but it most likely involves the New Agey glyphs adorning Morland’s office.

It is safe to say Tunley twists are especially twisted. The stakes are also much more considerable than the immediate is-he-or-isn’t-he question. Things get big picture cosmic, on a small, intimate scale. This is the kind of genre picture that is totally cool, because it throws you for a loop, but has just about zero special effects.

As Chris, Tom Meeten looks like the poster boy for clinical depression, regardless of the reality he is working in. It is an exhaustingly haggard and existential performance, but we never catch him acting. Likewise, Rufus Jones is terrific as the flamboyant and openly manipulative Coulson, who repeatedly up-ends our assumptions and expectations. Geoffrey McGivern goes all in chewing the scenery like a Hammer villain as Morland, but Niamh Cusack is more ambiguously insidious as Fisher.

The Ghoul probably demands too much attention from Rob Zombie horror fans, but if you just focus a little, it will really get under your skin. It is also unusually well-acted by genre standards. Cinematographer Benjamin Pritchard gives it a dark, dank, eerie look in keeping with the films of executive producer Ben Wheatley, so you know its good stuff. Very highly recommended, The Ghoul opens tomorrow (8/11) in several off-the-beaten-path venues, including the Lyric Cinema Café in Fort Collins.