- Alistair Braidwood
You Have Been Watching…Urban Ghost Story
Good Evening. Scotland doesn’t have a great tradition in horror movies, which is odd considering the wealth of Scottish Gothic and supernatural writing which provides potential material. There are a few exceptions such as The Bodysnatchers, Dog Soldiers, The Wicker Man etc, but there should be many more. It’s not that we shy away from the horrific. In recent Scottish cinema there have been disturbing scenes such as the power tool attack of Shallow Grave, the baby crawling on the ceiling in Trainspotting and even Mel G’s disemboweling in Braveheart. But these scenes are a result either of greed, malice, drug induced hallucinations or just some good old fashioned violence. Perhaps we prefer our modern horror to be of the realistic kind rather than supernatural.
Urban Ghost Story is a film that tries to bring the two strains together. Set in Glasgow the film opens up with a terrible car accident when two teenager’s drug-induced joyride ends in tragedy. The film does that rare thing in recent years of being a fairly straightforward ghost story instead of having intricate torture scenarios or teenage monsters. Imagine Poltergeist or Amytiville Horror but set in the Gorbals and you are close to what Urban Ghost Story is aiming for, and there are lots of nods to the history of the horror genre.
It’s not a great film, but it’s not as bad as you might imagine. Admittedly the cast doesn’t fill you with hope; it includes Sean’s lad Jason Connery, ex-Eastender Nicola Stapleton and original Die Hard villain Andreas Wisniewski but everyone does a good job, even if the accents sometimes slip. (As an aside, if producers want a non Scot for a part set in Scotland, then I have no problem with that. But why not allow them to be English, Welsh, Irish, American or whatever if they cannot talk the talk. All of these nations, and many more, have representatives who have settled in Scotland and no one would be upset by their appearance in film and TV. But I digress). There are some really strong performances, including the criminally underused James Cosmo and Stephanie Buttle as the matriarch of the haunted family. Special mention must go to Billy Boyd’s unnamed loan shark. I’ve said in another post (see You Have Been Watching…On A Clear Day) that Boyd deserves more than always being cast as the comedy side-kick, and this proves it. Once you get over the initial surprise it becomes clear that he is perfect as the ‘wee-man’ playing the hard man to impress his father. He’s all cheap suits and cowardly actions, and it’s a great turn.
The real star of the film is Heather Anne Foster who plays the central character of 12-year old Lizzie. Foster captures the confusion of the (pre)-teenage years; a period of pressure to be old before her time, but still retaining a childish wonder at the world without full understanding of the accompanying dangers. It’s a role that could have been terribly melodramatic but her fear at what is happening to her is never overplayed. This is Foster’s only film, along with a couple of Taggarts, and on this performance that’s a criminal waste of talent. Here’s the trailer:
It struck me watching Urban Ghost Story that it is rare that a working class family are the ones who find themselves under attack so to speak. In the movies, and most other fiction, it is usually the middle classes who are spooked. That in itself makes this an interesting production, and the world that Lizzie’s family live in is realistic without ever becoming voyeuristic, which is often the case when housing schemes appear on screen.
The film wears its low budget well, opting for some off screen scares that are often more successful than full frontal monster action could ever be. I’m a big horror fan, and while the result of that is that few things genuinely scare me anymore (sadly), this gave me proper thrills and chills. It does become ludicrous in places, but it’s a horror movie. I’d be disappointed if it didn’t. If you want a possible tagline for the film it could be; ‘Beware the Fish’. To understand that you’re going to have to watch it. Don’t have nightmares.