Once the credits roll and the lights go up, you can find respite at the end of a horror film, safe in the knowledge that it was all a fantasy. A ghost isn’t going to frantically tug at your duvet in the middle of the night, nor will they perch on top of your ornate wardrobe whilst you’re not looking. This isn’t without the efforts of the film itself, doing all it can to convince you of its authenticity, whether it’s a vague link to a haunting that happened centuries ago or a supposed direct retelling of an exorcism. This mere suggestion of authenticity is often however all the film needs to do, this concept pulsating in our minds like a germinating seed of dread, long after you’ve left the cinema.
This is why, often, the simplest horrors scare us the most, they are the closest to a parallel reality. Found-footage romps such as The Blair Witch Project, and Paranormal Activity feed off this concept, to replicate reality is paramount, after all the scariest stories are the ones which feel as though they could happen to you.
Striping away the bells and whistles of modern digital effects, 2005’s TV documentary ‘Ghosts on the Underground’, explores the oldest underground train network in the world, and the ghosts which allegedly haunt the tracks and stations. Discussing stories and anecdotes with employers of the London Underground, as well as contractors and experts in the paranormal, the documentary takes the form of a campfire discussion, moving from one story to the next whilst transitioning through footage of eerie underground passages and desolate stations.
Smart, simple production methods help to quickly build a nervous jagged sense of unease which is sustained throughout the runtime, with no sensational loud music or jump-scares. People are interviewed against backgrounds relevant to their stories, placed beside dark passages, empty carriages and shadowed entrances. It feels cold, empty, isolated and deeply uncomfortable.
This works in neat tandem with the near-whispers of the narration, providing context to each tale as if a paranormal tour guide leading you personally through the tunnels. It’s a strangely intimate experience, stalking the underground system often with no company beside the storytellers themselves or the ASMR narration. With no shabby reenactments or special effects, the production feels as traditional as the stories themselves, shying away from the dramatic or excessive, to focus on those subtle tales that creep up your back and persist to be recalled at the most inconvenient of times.
See the film, below.