Arrow Video has released the 2016 psychological drama The Ghoul on Blu-ray. It’s the debut film from writer/director Gareth Tunley. Does it deserve a spot in your collection? Read on to find out!
Around the Nerd Mentality offices it’s a well known fact that I don’t enjoy Ben Wheatley’s films. So when this movie came in with large letters on the top specifying “Wheatley as the Executive Producer” they all thought it would be funny to make me watch it and write a scathing review on what I thought. Typically I would have never picked this film up and would not have cared about checking it out at all. Boy, what a mistake that would have been! The Ghoul has turned out to be one of my top 3 favorite films of 2016 (The Handmaiden takes top spot with Hell or High Water being the other).
Because of the type of film The Ghoul is I would suggest going into it as blind as possible and not watch trailers or read descriptions and just delve into it. It’s not a film that a mass audience will love, in fact it’s only rated 5.7 on IMDB. This is not a horror film, its not supernatural and it’s not even about Ghouls or Goblins, but deals with the mind and imagination. I think it is phenomenal in script, acting and direction. It is a small budgeted picture but it is so well executed and intuitively structured and there just aren’t very many pictures out there like this. I want to use the word “brilliant” but that term gets thrown around way too often to have much impact, but it really is a great screenplay.
If you’ve decided not to go right out and watch The Ghoul I will assure you that I am not going to spoil anything in the review but I will hopefully illuminate what I think about it and where it compares in my mind with other works. It’s a bit like Christopher Nolan’s Following and Memento; back when he was doing more confined, intimate films. There are elements like Hugo Weaving’s performance in 1998’s The Interview and a few things in the film are reminiscent of David Lynch’s Lost Highway.
I don’t mean to bring these movies into the conversation by way of saying that Tunley duplicates the terminology of those films or rips off their scenes but rather just like those films he seems to understand the unspoken mental state of those kind of characterizations. I haven’t been this impressed with a debut directors feature length film since Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler.
The story line and characters bend in such a way that it resembles a puzzle box constructed by Kurt Vonnegut but not so much that you feel completely lost. Unlike some films that tackle this same subject it never feels like the director is talking down to you or that he feels you are stupid. Just enough is explained with just the right amount of pacing so that you feel like you are discovering things at just the right time. It is almost a perfect structure in that sense.
The first part of the film just seems like an average television police procedural that does the same story you have seen endless times. But then I felt like 8 to 10 minutes into the film everything started to click and the realizations of what was going on kept to that same pace all the way through as I would think of them. It’s not often a film grabs me like that and so I was very pleased that it kept my attention all the way through and did not compromise itself or its ending.
The actors (as shown in the special features) all come from a comedic background and while their may be some hints to a more dark humor it’s really a serious piece of art. They all do a good job of playing their characters straight but none more so than lead actor Tom Meeten who turns in a wonderful performance with such nuance and care. Typically I knew him from his British comedy cameos and it’s cool to get to see him stretch his believable acting chops here.
The Ghoul is a low budget film and the sound and visuals reveal that fact. Not that it’s bad or detractory but worth noting that there are a lot of handheld shots and natural lighting. I think it works in favor of the film and shows the mental state of the main character. The score is unique and subtle and the dialog is clear and crisp. Arrow does it’s normal job of a good encode but it’s not as noticeable with a new feature since this is the only version of the film I have seen before.
Feature commentary with writer/director Gareth Tunley, actor Tom Meeten and Jack Guttmann
In the Loop – A 36 minute interview with the cast and production on the film and what it took to get the debut picture made.
The Baron – A comedic short film with the same lead and writer/director and optional commentary
First print run insert booklet with essay and photos
The Ghoul Final Thoughts:
I was very surprised and very happy with watching The Ghoul. I loved it and am happy to give it my highest recommendation. Now that does not mean that I think every single person will love this film and that everyone will get the same pleasure from it as I did, but I wish they would. This is the kind of film that rarely gets made. It’s smart, it’s well written and it hits all the right notes in it’s performances. There is an undercurrent of subtlety running through the entire film that it practically begs to be watched again. It is a film full of intuition and urges you to contemplate what is going on while you are watching it. I could not have asked for a better film to watch. With pride I add it as a worthy addition to my film collection.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.