THE BLACK GLOVES / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: LAWRIE BREWSTER / SCREENPLAY: SARAH DALY / STARRING: JAMIE SCOTT JORDAN, MACARENA GOMEZ, ALEXANDRA NICOLE HULME / RELEASE: TBC
Originally released in black-and-white, but now getting a second chance in colour, the highly stylised mystery thriller The Black Gloves makes no apologies for its niche indie-art sensibilities. Whilst paying clear homage to the kind of psychologically disturbed cinema seen in The Innocents, Rebecca, and The Haunting, the film adopts the conventions of the popular cinema of the 1940s decade in which it is set. Added into the creative mix are some much more contemporary folk-horror motifs.
The central characters of the piece are drawn with the kind of broad brushstrokes which were entirely in-keeping with the expectations of that era’s British cinema. This means that the cast deliver their interpretations of the impassioned physician, the damaged dancer and the embittered housekeeper-come-choreographer with an intensity and directness that would, in other present-day filmic contexts, come across as simply over-the-top. Echoed in the way that The Black Gloves is framed and shot, this kind of overwrought evocation of the story is the clear intent of screenwriter Daly and director Brewster.
Psychiatrist Finn Galloway (Gordon) tricks his way into an isolated house in the Scottish Highlands. He hopes to be able to counsel talented ballerina Elisa Grey (Hulme) who has withdrawn from the world after a production of Swan Lake she was performing in was consumed by fire. Teacher Lorena Velsaco (Gomez) guards her patient closely, yet compels her to follow a gruelling training regime in the hope of recapturing her earlier form. Galloway learns of a mysterious and mythical spectre, known as The Owl Man, who may be implicated in the earlier death of a young girl at the house.
The Black Gloves looks great throughout. The cinematography of the barren coastline and the forbidding woodlands close to the house is striking, while the dark interiors of the house are beautifully lit to heighten the unsettling impact. It’s a sign of the meticulousness, and the sense of commitment to delivering on the film’s vision, that’s evident across the piece. Nothing about The Black Gloves looks thrown together. Everything on screen comes across as being exhaustively assessed and appraised.
Despite this, the challenge that the film faces is in trying to blend its disparate elements: the existential exploration of the former dancer’s traumatic life-history; and the lurking menace of the folklore monster that’s closing in on them. It only partially succeeds in doing so, through the tropes of film-noir paranoia.
The last half of the film is the strongest, as it tracks the unravelling of the relationship triangle and the pace picks up considerably. The tone turns darker, and for a time a sense of genuine malevolence displaces the film’s rarefied atmosphere. That’s before the film’s overlong coda delivers surprises that confuse rather than clarify the story’s internal logic. But this is filmmaking at its most considered and, as with everything else in the movie, nothing about those closing creative decisions appears throwaway.