Directed by Nick Murphy
Written by Stephen Volk and Nick Murphy
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Isaac Hempstead Wright, and Imelda Staunton
In 1921, England is overwhelmed by the loss and grief of World War I. Hoax exposer Florence Cathcart visits a boarding school to explain sightings of a child ghost. Everything she believes unravels as the ‘missing’ begin to show themselves.
I might be a sucker for a good ghost story, but I’ll be damned if the Brits don’t own this aristocratic sense of gloom and history. It’s so different from the choppy-moving Japanese ghouls and haunts. And America, well, we really like Satan, quick edits, and tits in horror. With that said, how did this gem slide into VOD and DVD without a chance for me to see it at the theater? Did we run out of room with The Apparition, The Devil Inside, Chernobyl Diaries, and Silent House? See where I’m headed? Thanks ‘Merica.
The film begins with a great criminal hoax exposure at the hands of Florence Cathcart (Hall – who is a stone cold fox btw), giving the viewer a sense of her ghosthunter calling, and maybe even some foreshadowing into what past sins have thrown her into this world of higher education and sense of moral fortitude. She is visited by the regal Robert Mallory (West) and called to a boarding house in Cumbria where she’s tasked with finding a ghost – one the rest of the staff and children seem very quick to believe in. A student was recently killed and she jumps at the chance to disprove the ghost theory and maybe even help solve the murder of young Walter Portman. During her stay she meets a huge fan of her book and work, the governess Maud (Staunton), who is more than willing to lend a hand. During her stay she faces the stern hands of disciplinary men who don’t care for the strong woman archetype. As she’s drawn deeper and deeper into the school and mystery, things begin to become clearer – almost to a fault as far as Florence is concerned.
While this isn’t a wholly original concept, I think fans of traditional ghost stories will see parallels between this, The Six Sense, The Others, and a host of straight ghost stories that love a good twist – even the time-honored twist on a twist. The suspenseful nature takes center stage at times, making even a simple dollhouse the center of abject terror. The site is sprawling and beautiful, adding the perfect backdrop to the film. In the end, we’re led down paths we never see coming, and that alone is worth the price of admission. Keep your eye on Tom, you’ll most likely recognize him from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Clever film, tremendous score, acting, and direction. I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest this one to you.