I was in Belfast earlier this week for a union meeting and, we not only finished early but did so with a few hours to spare before the flight home. Passing some time at Ulster Museum, I caught some of their new installation – Ghost Story by Willie Doherty.
It’s a film installation in a room at the back of the 20th century art gallery upstairs. The room is completely black when you walk in and on the far wall a film plays. The part I saw was a long slow gloomily lit shot down a long straight country road with trees on each side, leading off into the distance and a far spot on the horizon. There is no one in sight.
The room’s darkness is, of course, disconcerting and I stood at the wall on the left trying to adjust my eyes to the black. The film on the wall somehow gives you the feeling that the floor dips down, possibly into a pit or some abyss, and I inched forward gingerly feeling the wall, and feeling like an idiot. The temptation to sit in there with infra red glasses is pretty strong.
The storyline is played out through a voiceover (Stephen Rea) and the part I witnessed was about the narrator walking down the road and looking in the forest to see hundreds of faces staring back at him. He tells of an armed van arriving, soldiers spilling out and firing their guns indiscriminately into the crowd. The narrator returns many times in the days and weeks after the event but nothing is mentioned, there is no investigation, no news, no commemorative plaque of the incident. Instead an office building is put up on the site and it is never referred to by anyone.
At this point in the film I turned around, having made my way quite far forward by now and not fallen into any holes. Gathered near the entrance to the room was quite a crowd, their faces grouped together and lit from the outside, echoing those of the story. I turned back -the film changed – my eyes adjusted and I saw I was the only person inside the room itself, and that there was a bench to sit on at the back. I left.
The best ghost stories are those that echo real life. The ones that are eerie and disconcerting because they resemble something that might actually happen to you. I am trying to craft a ghost story at the moment but it’s very easy to fall into schlock shocks, and I don’t want to do that. It also seems easier to write it set in the past which I also don’t want to do. This impressed me though, so I’ll see how it shapes my thoughts for writing something spooky.