Ghost Stories

⋆½ out of four stars

Unrated by the MPAA.

Theater: Lagoon.

This throwback to nerve-jangling British horror anthologies quickly becomes a tiresome gutter ball of a chiller. It offers us three flashback stories of poltergeists, woodland demons and little girl ghouls, told without logical links or narrative resolution. In creating a subtext about the dangerous ways in which we deal with warped perceptions, writer/director/star Andy Nayman withholds the full context of what we have viewed until the final big reveal. That doesn’t redeem the clumsily structured film, but partly excuses it.

Nyman, adapting the film from his play, is Prof. Philip Goodman, a skeptic about supernatural matters who exposes phony psychics on his minor TV show. His long-vanished idol, who set the bar for shaming supernatural frauds, gives Goodman files about three unsolved cases. They may unearth actual evidence of occult evils, he warns: “Things are not always as they seem.”

Goodman, who believes that everything has a simple answer, re-examines the mysteries one by one. This divides the film into chapters with a differing focus but a sadly consistent level of amateurism.

The first segment is the worst. A retired night watchman (Paul Whitehouse, a fixture of 1990s English TV comedy) spins Goodman a story about a girlish ghost he encountered while guarding an abandoned former asylum. This segment involves a lot of sprinting between darkened rooms with no light other than a shaky flashlight beam, and repetitious jump scares.

Next, there’s the excellent up-and-comer Alex Lawther, a creepy yet funny show stealer you may remember from “The Imitation Game.” He plays a devil-obsessed teen whose late-night joy ride in his father’s car ends in a collision with a boogeyman. Lawther, who excels at making anxiety both pitiful and funny, makes his spine quake visibly.

Finally there’s Martin Freeman, reliable as ever even in substandard material. He entirely buys into the role of an egocentric financier attacked by an angry spirit as he awaits the birth of his first child. Freeman draws us deeply enough into this unpleasant but sympathetic character to make his tale’s surprise finale genuinely shocking.

Ending the film there would have spared us the flabby, contrived conclusion that explains at long last why and how the different stories, studded with ominous cross-references like repeating numbers and hooded figures, have been connected. It’s as much a surprise as “Scooby Doo’s” weekly exposé that the phantom was really a mean old man in a mask. “Ghost Stories” certainly kept me squirming in my seat, but I was writhing to head toward the exit.

Colin Covert

Godard Mon Amour

⋆½ out of four stars

Unrated by the MPAA. In subtitled French.

Theater: Edina.

 

On being informed that Michel Hazanavicius was making a movie about him, 87-year-old filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard is reported to have called it a “stupid, stupid idea.” Au contraire! It’s a brilliant idea. It just happens to be a terrible movie.

Hazanavicius (best-known for “The Artist”) chronicles an eventful year that includes the 37-year-old Godard’s marriage to 19-year-old actress Anne Wiazemsky and the uprising of French students and workers in May 1968.

The Godard of the late 1960s is a cultural hero of the times chafing against his fame and trying to adapt his art to the volatile political climate. His charisma is made plausible partly by the fact that he is played by Louis Garrel, a formidable actor and, it turns out, a clever celebrity impersonator.

Wiazemsky (Stacy Martin), granddaughter of conservative writer François Mauriac, has recently starred in “La Chinoise,” Godard’s satire of the Maoist turn in left-wing French youth culture. She marries him and takes on the role of muse and erotic ideal.

Godard must choose between cinema and politics, a predicament that would be more credible if Hazanavicius had a solid conception of either term. As for love, it represents another squandered opportunity. No one would argue that Godard is a nice guy. But this movie doesn’t even make him an interesting creep.

You may know two or three things about Godard when the movie starts — or about France, politics, sex and cinema — but rest assured that by the time it’s over, you will know less.

A.O. Scott, New York Times