Craig Viveiros' feature film debut Ghosted is an intense and often claustrophobic character study of men living in the close quarters of a UK prison. At the centre of the story is Jack (John Lynch), an inmate who was been carefully toeing the line for four years, but when his release date is merely three months away his wife decides to give him the boot and go off with another man. Bloody women, eh? Left floundering for some new motivation in life, his gaze alights on Paul (Martin Compston), a baby-faced new kid who is being groomed by prison predator Clay (Craig Parkinson). Jack makes it his mission to protect the boy from being drawn into Clay's web and to provide him with enough guidance to survive the prison system.
I can't describe how utterly refreshing it is to discover a screenwriter who understands the concept of 'show, don't tell'. Viveiros, who both wrote and directed the film, knows his characters so well that he doesn't feel the need to blurt out huge chunks of exposition in the first fifteen minutes, and in fact it's not until towards the end of the film that you find out what Jack and Paul are in prison for. As a result, the film is a true slow-burner that builds up its story so smoothly that the audience doesn't see the explosive climax until it's right on top of them.
Ghosted is lucky enough to have a cast that has absolutely no weak spots, with John Lynch delivering an intensely emotional portrayal of a man trying to atone for his past mistakes, and Martin Compston convincing as the young, introverted 'ghost' of the film's title. The scene-stealer, though, is the always-brilliant Craig Parkinson, who I knew previously from Chris Morris' controversial comedy 'Four Lions' and E4's sci-fi series Misfits. His performance as Clay is genuinely chilling and whenever he's in a scene the tension instantly ratchets up several notches. His acting is understated enough that you can never quite tell what Clay is planning, yet there's never any doubt that it's something Very Bad.
Right on the front page of the press notes for Ghosted is the claim that the film is "technically faultless". Now that's a pretty ballsy claim to make but with all the will in the world I can't deny it. The film was shot in digital on the RED4K and cinematographer James Friend makes expert use of the new technology. Each scene finds its own distinct mood evoked by the colour palette and lighting. Even if the story had sucked I would have given the film several stars just for looking bloody gorgeous.
Criticisms? Oh, I have a few. The film is composed predominantly of close-ups on the various characters and while it works well for maintaining emotional intensity, the impact of the close-ups is lessened by the frequency of their use. Some might criticise the end of the film for dropping a massive coincidence into an otherwise brutally realistic story, but since the film itself acknowledges the coincidence and enigmatically writes it off as "fate" I'm willing to let it slide. As I mentioned earlier in the review, the film is a slow-burner and viewers with a short attention span might struggle to stick with it through to the end. But screw them, this film is everything British indies should be: unique, tightly scripted, beautifully shot and with characters that will stay with you long after you've brushed the popcorn off your lap.
Ghosted will be released in cinemas, on demand and for download across the UK on June 24th, and will be released on DVD on June 27th.