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Ghoul, The

Arrow Video // Unrated // September 12, 2017
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted October 14, 2017 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
Going deep, deep undercover

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Cult films
Likes: Mindbenders, Arrow Films
Dislikes: Crime dramas
Hates: Getting ahead of the game

The Movie
When you're a student of film and get to understand concepts like structure and plot, it can become hard to just watch a film without breaking things down and start thinking ahead, and, even if just subconsciously, start predicting what's to come. A good filmmaker will realize this, and can use it to manipulate the audience and use misdirection to create genuine surprises. Others will just lean into the curve and give the viewer what they expect, perhaps hoping the journey makes up for an otherwise perfunctory plot progression. .

That's not to say that Gareth Tunley's The Ghoul is such a creature, as there are definitely some unexpected developments during its surprisingly brief 85 minutes, but how the film unfolds will certainly get your cinemasenses tingling, and the big-picture elements will not surprise as they are revealed. Chris (Tom Meeten) is a police officer, called in to work an unusual case: two people in a house were shot multiple times, but the wounds didn't stop them from advancing on their attacker, before eventually collapsing as he ran away. So, what happened?

To figure out the answers, he follows a trail that leads him to a psychotherapist, and--going undercover as a patient--invents a backstory that hews very closely to his reality, including severe depression and a lost love who has moved on to a new relationship. But as Chris falls deeper into the rabbit hole of therapy, it becomes unclear whether his story is his true life or if his true life is his story. It only gets more twisted when he winds up with another analyst, one who embraces magick, and he starts getting warnings that things may not be as they seem.

There's a lot to like about how Chris' spiral down unfolds--with a heaping helping of visual style--and when all the elements come together, there's a real opportunity to feel a sense of satisfaction at how a pretty obvious moment somewhat sneaks up on you. Without saying too much in terms of spoilers, the story actually works surprisingly well in the big picture. Unfortunately, it gets a bit too convoluted for its own good in spots, and the wrap-up drags on a bit, but Tunley and company crafted an engaging little paranoid mystery that is less reliant on plot than most films, putting more weight on tone and atmosphere.

Led by Meeten's channeling of a dark Dustin Hoffman, the film establishes a foreboding mood that consistently leaves you wondering what could be waiting around the next corner. It's a bit odd, considering the cast--including Alice Lowe and Rufus Jones--is better known for their work in dark comedies, like Sightseers and Prevenge, but when given a chance to spread their wings, comedians have shown they can surprise.

The Discs
The Ghoul arrives as a one-disc release in a clear, slightly thick Blu-ray case (with a reversible cover), and features Arrow's clean, animated menu design, which offers options to watch the film, adjust languages and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH.

The Quality
The 2.35:1, 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer offers a bit of everything, as the film has a variety of looks, ranging from cool-hued darkness to sunny greenery, and though it was shot digitally on the cheap, for the most part, it looks good, likely because of the intentional choice of a gauzy, dreamlike visual style. Fine detail is solid when the lighting and focus assists (which isn't very often) and the color is good in its obviously manipulated way. There's nothing about the image--whether you're looking in terms of the aesthetics or the quality--that will give you pause.

Sound is a big part of what creates the feel of The Ghouland the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track delivers the goods, making sure all the ambient sound and haunting score cues sound fantastic, utilizing the surrounds to fill out the room, with some nice discreet placement and movement to enhance the effect. Voices are appropriately prioritized in the mix, and easily understood when they should be. Not many films use sound as effectively as The Ghoul, so getting this presentation right was important.

The Extras
A feature-length audio commentary from Tunley, Meeten and producer Jack Healy Guttman is a fun, yet informative track recorded in June of 2017 featuring a good deal of self-deprecating humor from the director and his star, as well as tips for making a film on the cheap (the participants' stated goal.).

In the Loop is a 36:17 documentary on the making of the film, featuring plenty of interviews with the cast and crew, as well as producer Ben Wheatley, and footage from the set. They discuss the origins of the film at the Edinburgh comedy festival, the tight schedule and influence of finances on the evolution of the story, how they promoted the movie and the low-budget techniques used to produce the movie. Lots of good insight here for indie filmmakers.

Also included here is Tunley's 2013 short film The Baron (9:27), which has some similarities with The Ghoul as far as theme goes, but it couldn't be more different in tone, and it's a great short film. As an added bonus, there's a commentary from Tunley and Meeten that's similar in construction to their commentary on the main film, and an enjoyable listen.

The on-disc extras wrap with the film's trailer (1:34), which offers a moody promo for the movie that matches the film in tone and design.

The first pressing of this set includes a 28-page booklet with info on the film and the release, stills from the film and an essay by author and filmmaker Adam Scovell, who offers an in-depth exploration of the role of the occult in both London and The Ghoul.

The Bottom Line
Using Wheatley's name to sell The Ghoul isn't going to help it with audiences, as it doesn't have the same feel as his hands-on films, but it's a quality movie in its own right--dripping in atmosphere--even if it does get lost in its own mythology a bit. Arrow doesn't disappoint in bringing it to Blu-ray, with a quality presentation and some solid extras that have a real focus in helping fellow low-budget filmmakers. If you like a bit of a mind-bender, The Ghoul is worth checking out.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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