The Ghoul is an intricate cinematic experience which subverts genres by blurring the lines between illusion and reality. It takes its audience on a convoluted, dark but also visually arresting journey through psychosis; all under the guise of a detective story. This is director and writer Gareth Tunley's debut full-length feature and an impressive one at that. He has managed to create something that is truly fascinating; exploring the depths of the human condition.

Chris (Tom Meeten) is introduced to us a homicide detective who goes undercover as a patient to investigate a psychotherapist he believes is linked to a strange double murder. As the therapy sessions continue his perception of reality begin to warp and the personalities of those around him start to transform. The lines between fantasy and reality start to fuse with each other and Chris increasingly becomes unable to tell the difference.

Meeten is convincing as the painfully shy and down trodden Chris. He personifies the character's inner turmoil and the onslaught of his psychosis, exceptionally. Alice Lowe's gives her character Kathleen very natural feel coupled with the regional stereotype she plays into, giving an authentic portrayal. Other noteworthy performances include the brash and eloquent psychotherapist Moreland (Geofrey McGovern), who lightens things up by infusing a sense of humour to his role.

The dreamlike sequences take on a psychedelic feel. The viewer becomes drawn in by the confusion and chaos that descends; unsure what is happening as proceedings start to spiral out of a linear narrative. These surreal moments are masterfully executed with the use of carefully edited visual montages which are accompanied by an atmospheric and often schizophrenic soundtrack. What starts off as an undercover detective story morphs into psychological suspense thriller, through a pastiche of hallucinations.

The Ghoul is an exceptional piece of work for its complexity, its richness of ideas, its subversion, the slick multi layered montages; but also for highlighting that maybe our reality is more of a state of mind.

We were excited to catch up with director Gareth Tunley to discuss the film.

***

Screen Shot 2016-11-08 at 16.58.24

Firstly I would like to congratulate you on this film. It's impressive that this is your first full-length feature, as it has the look and feel of a seasoned film-maker.

Thank you. Well, this is my first full feature and a low budget film at that. However, we still wanted to make a classical film, even on a 'fag and a fiver' and so many things that mark a low budget film we tried to avoid. Like not having all hand-held coverage, no mock documentary style, it's not all set in one location. Not that anything is wrong with those things; great films have been made in that kind of register. Ben Pritchard our DOP, is fantastically resourceful. He was influenced by people like Nesto Almendros, a famous cinematographer from back in the day; famous for doing a lot with very little money. In that way, Ben also managed to make our resources stretch. I have been making short films for years and years and eventually I realised nobody is going to give me a million or even half a million to make a feature film. The idea in the film has been in my head for so long and it was great to get it out and do that on a budget.

You wrote the script. It's very interesting in the way reality and dream like states merge into each other. How did you set out to write such a complicated piece of work?

Fundamentally I am a fan of detective stories but I also love films that are dreamlike, films that have a plot but also include dreamlike aspects. Personally, I am also often prone to bad periods which luckily blow over after a couple of days. So, there is an element of that included the film. Also, walking around London inspires me, especially the hidden, unknown places which you can see a fair bit of that in the film.

Chris - Tom Meeten - Bridge

We realised we could tell a story about depression and mental health and further wrap all these unpleasant themes into a genre. There is only a limited market for stories of a man staring at his shoes crying; I don't think audiences are crying out for that at the multiplexes. We thought this was a good way to explore these themes as well as the more abstract philosophical themes but do it under the guise of a detective story. I believe the detective stories have remained popular as it's such a malleable base to start a story from that you can go anywhere with it.

The film seems to switch genres. It starts off as a detective story but then evolves into a psychological and almost psychedelic suspense drama. The ending brings us  back to the beginning, but it doesn't wrap up as a detective story predictably would.

Well I wouldn't want to give away any plot intentions and leave it up to the audiences to find their own interpretation of the ending. We didn't think too much of genre when making the film but I am very happy that it picks up on the detective element. People also picked up on social realism, which honestly speaking we didn't set out to do that. It is down to the cast making their characters very real, even with the atmosphere of weirdness. People have also picked up on a horror element which again was not our intention. I completely accept though, that it owes something to the horror genre. Things wouldn't be in the film if it wasn't for some subliminal influence of the genre somehow. It may be like a horror film in disguise.

Dan Skinner as Jim PREFERRED

When making this film, did you ever think that this blurring of realities and the veering off into a non-linear narrative, would possibly confuse audiences?

We did talk a lot about the audience not being too confused, but we wanted them to be confused over the right things. So, we worked hard at making what is 'clear' to be very 'clear'. A lot of that was made in the edit room. However, it is an abstract film, I like it when people watch the film and say, "I found that quite confusing" or someone else would say "I thought it was about this." I feel that maybe people get it on an intuitive level. There is a great quote by Samuel Beckett which I like quoting as it makes me look like I know about things; he was asked meaning about certain thing about a play of his and his answer was: "if I knew the meaning I wouldn't put in." Words to live by.

As Chris' reality starts to shift changes we see that the people around him morph start into these new characters.

I would say it's less Chris' identity changing put more his perception. If you are suffering from mental health, your relationships with others also changes. There is also the aspect of mental health where people pretend they are well when they are not. So, this idea of using this strand of the undercover detective is an interesting way of exploring that. The more controversial aspect of mental health is that some people may act out the symptoms either to make the inner experience comprehensible to others but also to themselves. What goes on inside is different, what goes on outside, and that is what I wanted to put forward in the film. Again, that is explored through the detective story. Even in this well-worn trope; the guy who goes deep cover so much so that he starts to lose grip of who he is.

I was very intrigued by brashness and openness of the second therapist that Chris visited, Moreland. Especially when Moreland openly states to Chris that he isn't sure whether therapy does work.

Moreland was a creation of mostly the actor, Geoff McGovern. Geoff brought a lightness to that character, as well as humour and wit. He nails the gravitas. He has a wry smile, so you kind of don't know where you are with him. Geoff created this great character that is also very dangerous. He mentions that if you believe something then it's true, and if you have someone who is vulnerable and suggestible like Chris, that kind of relativism is quite a dangerous thing to play around with. Or another interpretation of Moreland for me, it that he is a warlock with magical powers.

Kathleen - Alice Lowe

There are many moments in the film where you have inserted beautifully edited, multi layered montages. Like the car scene at the end, when Chris is driving and crashes, the lights and roads start to blur, it all appears to enhance Chris' experience of anxiety.

The film is a collaborative effort, pulling a lot of resources and ideas together. The last car scene, Ben Pritchard shot the road scenes on the M1. The interiors were filmed in a static car in a friend's garage in Twickenham. Every time you see headlights behind Tom Meeten, it's one of us (the crew) holding pound shop torches, gaffa taped to a cling film box, just swaying gently from side to side. It's all incredibly low fi stuff. We then put together a lot of that footage and in the edit room we took out a lot of the scenes where Chris crashes his car as we felt we didn't have the resources to make that specific collision moment look good. We show glimpses of it, but very little focus on it.

What's next? After the Ghoul?

We have our plate full to try and get audiences to see the Ghoul. It's been over a year since we finished the film, to get to the point where I am speaking to you now, where it's coming out at cinemas. However, my next script is ready to go, I have lots of ideas.

The Ghoul is out in selected cinemas.