Here is a peculiar film based on a peculiar real-life case: the “talking mongoose” hoax that became a newspaper sensation in the 1930s, the crop circle story of its day. The Irvings, a farming family in the Isle of Man, claimed there was a mongoose called Gef in their farmhouse that could speak – although no independent observer ever saw the creature, but only heard its bizarre voice in the walls or under the floorboards. The obvious explanation was close at hand: the daughter of the family made no secret of being a talented ventriloquist.
Despite this, it amused the press to maintain a deadpan attitude to the possibility of “Gef” being real, and there was no shortage of credulous and excitable spiritualists who were excited by the idea. One was the Hungarian-born paranormal investigator Nandor Fodor who came to Man, convinced that Gef was not a con trick precisely, but a manifestation of group hysteria. He is played here with commitment and sincerity by Simon Pegg, sporting tailoring and facial hair like a young Sigmund Freud. Writer-director Adam Sigal imagines an assistant for him: Anne, played by Minnie Driver.
It really is a strange film, converting this odd “talking mongoose” case into … what exactly? Not comedy; it is ponderously and laboriously serious, with interminably dull stretches of dialogue. And not a scary movie, either, although there is quite a disturbing scene in which Anne talks to the ventriloquist daughter, played by Jessica Balmer, who demonstrates her eerie ability to throw her voice. In the end, the film looks like something that’s been salvaged in the edit, as it muses boringly on life’s great imponderables.
• Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose is released on 8 November on Prime Video.