Possession Thriller Ghoul Benefits From Subtle Scares


The possession thriller Ghoul frames its fiction with fact: Weathered Ukrainian women relate stories of cannibalism from the Stalin-caused famine of the 1930s, genuine horrors endured not a century ago.

That grounding in history lends weight to the rest of the film, as an American documentary crew accompanies its local fixer, a translator, and a psychic to the house of Boris, a (fictional) survivor of that cannibalism later accused of murder and cannibalism himself.

Their interview subject doesn’t show, but thanks to an ill-advised séance, the crew becomes trapped in the area around his remote cottage, possibly by the spirit of yet another cannibal (a real-life serial killer named Andrei Chikatilo).

Director Petr Jákl disorients with a veering handheld camera and scenes illuminated by wavering pinpricks of light; on the audio side, any spoken Ukrainian is only sometimes subtitled, but otherwise translated in-scene — and only after a pause.

Other frustrations seem less deliberate: The two male Americans blend together, and what can be said for a movie with so many cannibals it’s tough to remember which is which? Nonetheless, Ghoul rewards attention for much of its running time with subtle scares and growing unease, before squandering it in a shaky chase through twisted corridors that goes nowhere unexpected.

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