MOVIE REVIEW: BLACKWOOD / CERT:15 / DIRECTOR: ADAM WIMPENNY / SCREENPLAY: J.S. HILL / STARRING: ED STOPPARD, SOPHIA MYLES, RUSSELL TOVEY, ISAAC ANDREWS, PAUL KAYE, GREG WISE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
There’s something fantastically reassuring about settling down to watch a good old-fashioned British haunted house horror film. Half of the fun is counting off the clichés as they roll by: big, creaky ramshackle house in the country, things going bump in the night, mysterious locals-with-secrets, inexplicable paranormal phenomena. Blackwood serves them all up shamelessly so the audience feels right at home and on familiar terror territory. Then it goes and flips everything upside down and spins off into another direction entirely, becoming something we never really saw coming because it wasn’t what we expected.
Blackwood is a handsome, well-made low budget British genre piece from first-time director Adam Wimpenny. He and his screenwriter J.S. Hill have worked hard to create something that fits into a genre we think we know before wrong-footing us - and they would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for a hugely unlikeable protagonist and a last-reel tumble into predictable mad-stalker-in-the-house mode. Bah, etc.
It probably wasn’t the best idea in the world for troubled historian Ben (Stoppard) to take up an academic post which involves him relocating with his family (reunited after a brief separation) to a tumbledown, sprawling country house right next to the middle of nowhere. Ben’s psyche is fragile after a nervous breakdown and it’s not long before he’s hearing strange noises and seeing visions, none of which make any sense. Meanwhile, creepy ex-gamekeeper war veteran Joe (Tovey) and beardy priest Patrick (Kaye) are prowling around adding to the generally sinister neighbourhood vibe. Convinced his new home is haunted and becoming increasingly paranoid, Ben turns amateur detective to try to find out the truth about some of the house’s previous inhabitants.
Unfortunately, the tightly-wound narrative starts to unravel, then ties itself up in knots again in its haste to properly explain it’s twist – and, in fairness, it’s a decent twist – and sadly Ben’s psychological collapse just leads the movie into a dreary runaround climax which betrays the story and its generally well-defined characters. The film suffers almost fatally from the fact that Ben is so horribly unsympathetic from the off: he’s dour, grumpy, uncomfortable in his own skin and actually quite unpleasant company. It’s hard to imagine quite what his wife Rachel (the delightful Sophia Myles who, in a fairer world, would be as big a star as Kate Winslet) sees in him; if it wasn’t for their son Tom (Andrews) – Ben has little time for him either – she’d surely be off like a rocket, but preferably not with Ben’s sleazy predatory chum Dominic (Wise).
Blackwood is a nice try, a promising debut from Wimpenny, a film with some good ideas and a genuine will to break the haunted house movie mould. It’s not always as successful as it wants to be but it’s an interesting and engaging effort which doesn’t disgrace itself or its genre.
Expected Rating: 4 out of 10