The Ghoul film review: a mind-bending London chiller

A lonely investigator tumbles down the rabbit hole in Gareth Tunley’s The Ghoul

The truth is a hard thing to get a grip on in Gareth Tunley’s excellent debut, which blurs the lines between genres as its protagonist tumbles head-first into a dangerous world full of untrustworthy figures, of which he is definitely one.

The film opens with Chris (Tom Meeten) being called to a disturbing crime scene, where copper Jim (Dan Skinner) tells him that the victims of a violent home invasion kept on walking even after they’d been shot. Their only lead is a shady character named Coulson (Rufus Jones), but when Chris goes undercover as a patient at Coulson’s therapist, we begin to see that our hero’s not quite the man we thought he is. But are the people around him who they claim to be?

Starring an impressive roster of British comedians (not to mention being written and directed by one), The Ghoul proves to be a dark, atmospheric and surprisingly moving portrayal of a crumbling psyche. Tunley tells his story through Chris’ untrustworthy viewpoint, and delivers a rug-pull so early in the story that you’ll spend the rest of the film questioning everything that follows as intensely as what came before.

Meeten delivers a superb performance in the lead role, somehow both acting as an anchor for the narrative and offering a compelling portrait of a man who is at the end of a long and painful spiral. To discuss Chris’ issues in too much detail would be ruin several key plot elements, but there is a real sensitivity to the way in which Tunley and Meeten present this character.

There are also strong dramatic turns from the rest of the cast, with the brilliant Alice Lowe (Prevenge) as a (possibly) old flame, Jones (Stag) as the nervy suspect, Skinner (High-Rise) as the brash best friend, and Geoffrey McGivern (SS-GB) as an eccentric therapist. The latter’s character provides the key to the film’s possible genre element, offering an intriguing twist on Alan Moore-esque psychogeography as well as a potential threat to our hero’s very soul.

There’s an ambiguity here but it’s absolutely satisfying and will reward repeat viewings. This is an ambitious and accomplished debut and a compelling journey into an uncertain world.