Directed and Written by #CharlieSteeds
Film Review by Jack Bottomley
Horror is always striving for new places to spread its sinister wings but sometimes it really is the simplest of traditions that chill the most. Be it a bump in the night, a fear of the unknown, a mind bending foray into the strange or a toothy monster under the bed. Many modern horror films continue to proudly embrace the past, be it the German expressionism of silent screamers like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the old school shared universe thrills of Universal Monsters or the impeccable stylings of Hammer Horror. And as great as it is to see the genre wildly swinging in so many different directions, sometimes it is fabulous to be taken back to such vintage work, for instance by a well crafted British ghostly tale, and writer/director #CharlieSteeds’ An English Haunting is just that. And I was lucky enough to catch it at this year’s #StarburstInternationalFilmFestival.
Set in the 1960s, young man Blake Cunningham (#DavidLenik) and his his alcoholic mother Margot (#TessaWood), are forced to move to the vast and largely empty Clemonte Hall, to care for ailing father/grandfather Aubrey (#BarringtonDeLaRoche). Soon though, the dark and mysterious past of this old house begins to seep out and as supernatural activity begins to haunt Blake, his investigation into this home’s history uncovers terrifying secrets. An English Haunting is a return to the atmospheric days of Hammer. A British ghost story with an air of tragedy and that has the spectre of Hereditary looming over it, as its underlying story kicks into gear.
Blessed with outstanding production values, An English Haunting absolutely looks the part, managing to capture its era but also works as a film that feels to have an even older epoch and is like a real tip of the top hat to the spooky English horror tales of old, with that very British edge of eccentricity. Clemente Hall itself is winding and treacherous and while the plot hides secrets, the setting, with hidden doorways and cold colour-drained halls, feels to literally conceal such mysteries. To that point the cinematography by #MichaelLloyd makes a fine use of this, and the grey, outdoor, stretching landscape and overgrown nature-claimed greenhouses, as it all adds to the overall feel of the film. As does the impressive score by #GrahamPlowman.
Steeds superbly directs with this in mind, making the utmost use of the resources at hand and editing the film to achieve a sometimes dreamlike effect, this all helps tremendously for building the character of the film’s central ghoul. Like some of the best “monsters”, the film’s central horrific figure comes with an overcoat of pain, and the film works well in keeping this avenging phantasm mostly concealed by lashings of shadow or quick look shots. These glimpses however do give us great insights into the brilliant make-up design and for that matter an equally effective costume and props department.
Admittedly, like some entries in The Conjuring Universe, which this reminded me of to a degree, you have a ‘go for the throat’ jump scare approach at points, with all the out horror tropes coming into full effect and a heavy reliance on the atmosphere to keep the story ticking. As such, many viewers may be ahead of the film a few steps and know where things are heading, although some supporting developments (ala Ari Aster) provide the film with a surprising and not overly explained sinister side act. And the ending is welcomely downplayed and rather downbeat, which I sometimes like and here it worked out great.
The acting is of a high degree, with strong a performance by Tessa Wood who is sometimes to the bone and sometimes funny but as a character is forced to evolve past her afflictions to save her family from the plague of history. With some good supporting performances from #JéssicaAlonso and #EmmaSpurginHussey, as well as Barrington De La Roche, the cast fully commit, none more than lead David Lenik. Lenik’s initially timid but ultimately resilient protagonist is one you hope comes away from this nightmarish haunting, and that makes all the difference, as the film and its spectres zone in on him, the audience becomes invested in this story of twisted heritage and spirits who cannot rest in peace.