- Emma Simmonds
- 22 March 2021
Jessica Brown Findlay battles the no longer living in this chiller from Christopher Smith
This rather handsome British ghost story is helmed by Christopher Smith, who you may remember as the director of enjoyable noughties horrors like Creep, Severance and Triangle, as well as the likeably leftfield Christmas flick Get Santa in 2014. Smith has assembled an impressive cast for his return to the horror genre, with Jessica Brown Findlay at the fore and a trio of character actors providing strong support.
In many ways it's a very typical supernatural tale, set in bucolic England during the unsettling lead-up to World War II. A vicar (John Heffernan's Linus), his wife Marianne (Brown Findlay) and her daughter Adelaide (Anya McKenna-Bruce) move to a grand but neglected rural manor, which has sat empty for three years, for reasons related to the gory prologue. Linus has been placed there by John Lynch's bishop, Malachi, who is fully aware of the history of the house. Sean Harris fulfils the role of the ranting local, an occultist named Harry Price, who at first appears deranged but is, of course, the only one who really understands. It is revealed that the house was built on the grounds of a former monastery, whose inhabitants it seems had a penchant for sadism.
Smith and cinematographer Sarah Cunningham conjure striking and suitably sinister imagery and adopt a predominantly slow-burn approach to frights, with instances of the uncanny (figures lingering in mirrors, for example) providing a relatively benign taste of what's to come. Although packed to the rafters with horror traditions – crypts, asylums, hooded figures, scary dolls – it's all pretty well executed.
There are moments which recall The Orphanage (a creepy game of 'What's the time, Mr Wolf?', for instance) and it's certainly in that classier vein of period horror – see also The Innocents and The Others – with its credibility enhanced immeasurably by Brown Findlay, who brings guts and pathos to Marianne's plight. If Harris's turn is a little on the affected side, he's a compelling screen presence and remains defiantly entertaining. And the film's damning exposure of the church and its history of repressing and controlling women adds an invigorating splash of feminist anger to the mix in an elegant and largely effective chiller.
Available to watch on demand from Fri 26 Mar.