The Ghoul (4 stars)

The Ghoul

Shape-shifting British drama from debut writer-director Gareth Tunley, starring Tom Meeten

A maverick former policeman goes undercover as a patient in a film where nothing is as it first seems. Writer-director Gareth Tunley's debut feature boasts frantic, collage-like visuals that emulate the workings of a fractured mind, as we meet a man consumed by delusions, jealousy and paranoia.

Life has proved desperately disappointing for Tom Meeten's Chris who's living a lonely existence out of a pokey bedsit, haunted by the spectre of depression and obsessing over Kathleen (Alice Lowe), the wife of his pal Jim (Dan Renton Skinner) – both of whom he went to university with. It's no surprise then that he's created the aforementioned alter-ego, immersing himself in a detective fantasy so hackneyed it's the stuff of a dodgy ITV drama. However, as The Ghoul upends cliché for something far stranger and Chris meets with a necromancy-obsessed psychotherapist called Morland (Geoffrey McGivern) a sinister picture begins to emerge.

Cinematographer Benjamin Pritchard's restless, stalking camerawork suits a film in permanent flux – from cop show knock-off, to psychological drama, to paranormal thriller, flirting with psychedelia and parody along the way – while the cast of comedians further throw you off the scent with largely po-faced performances. As it takes its audience on a dark and mentally disordered journey, there are shades of Peter Strickland and of the work of Tunley's collaborators Lowe and executive producer Ben Wheatley.

Meeten's performance is appealingly and unusually unassuming and his raw awkwardness suits the film's rough around the edges shtick. Although events unfold in a fog of Lynchian unease, The Ghoul embraces its low-budget Britishness – it's both dynamic and despondent, while Tunley makes strong use of its London locations as his protagonist pounds the capital's streets in a futile search for existential answers. Even as Chris has cause to ask, 'Who am I?', the film never loses sight of its own identity.

Selected release from Fri 4 Aug.

The Ghoul

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • 1h 21min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Gareth Tunley
  • Written by: Gareth Tunley
  • Cast: Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe, Rufus Jones
  • UK release: 4 August 2017

Depressed Chris (Meeten) lives in a pokey bedsit, obsessing over his married college friends Kathleen (Lowe) and Jim (Skinner), until he starts to immerse himself in a detective fantasy. Tunley’s debut feature is about the workings of a fractured mind, flirting with psychedelia and parody, embracing its low-budget…