dir Adam Wimpenny
scr JS Hill
prd Adam Morane-Griffiths
with Ed Stoppard, Sophia Myles, Isaac Andrews, Russell Tovey, Greg Wise, Paul Kaye, Joanna Vanderham, Melanie Gray, Sebastian Dunn, Duncan Pow, Kenneth Collard, Luke Brandon Field
release UK Oct.13 lff
13/UK 1h40
Bump in the night: Andrews and Stoppard

myles tovey wise
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Blackwood While playing with every cliche in the haunted house genre, director Wimpenny and writer Hill find an inventive twist in the tale. The key influence seems to be The Shining, with a small family menaced by strange goings-on in an isolated, over-large house.

Recovering from a breakdown, Oxford professor Ben (Stoppard) takes a job in Bristol and moves his wife Rachel (Myles) and son Harry (Andrews) into a gigantic country house called Blackwood. Creepy things start happening immediately, from a non-working clock chiming in the middle of the night to ghostly visions. There are also creepy locals, including a groundsman with post-traumatic stress (Tovey) and the long-haired priest (Kaye). Not to mention Ben's leery ex-colleague Dominic (Wise). But with his history, Ben doesn't dare tell anyone that he's seeing things. So he quietly starts looking into local history.

Wimpenny ratchets up the suspense with the usual movie trickery, and most of the jolts are red herrings. But there are also endless freak-out elements, from a crumbling stone circle in the grounds to constant images of scary-looking owls. Power cuts come at just the right time, as do thunderclaps. Meanwhile, Hill's script is quietly layering in elements that will be come back to haunt us later, as it were.

And the cast is up for it, playing scenes straight while letting us see layers of fear in the characters' eyes. The busy back-story and details about the locals allow several eerie threats to emerge along the way, so by the time we get to the big finale everyone is in peril and we're not sure who the heroes and villains are anymore. If there are any. That said, most of the performances merrily drift over the top, with glowering looks and moments of wrenching emotion.

So even though the cast is likeable and magnetic on-screen, no one is hugely believable. Kaye is rather too messy to be a vicar, while Wise is too frisky and Tovey is too tormented. And so on. By the time every element has been redefined the whole movie feels both gimmicky and tidy. But Wimpenny's direction is so slick, and the central idea is so breathtakingly unexpected, that we go with it. And in the end, this clever twist is strong enough to make the film feel fresh.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 30.Sep.13 lff

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall