THE HAUNTED / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAVID HOLROYD / SCREENPLAY: DAVID HOLROYD / STARRING: SOPHIE STEVENS, NICK BAYLY, KIRSTIE STEELE / RELEASE: OUT NOW
What’s immediately impressive about new spooky video-on-demand release The Haunted is its makers’ commitment to the old-school fundamentals of the haunted house flick. It’s an enthusiasm that holds good throughout the piece, which delivers a pleasing combination of unease, mounting tension and jump-shocks. All this good stuff unfolds around a strong (if not exactly unique) premise.
Emily is a young woman far from at ease with herself. Weighed down by some serious personal baggage, she’s taken a low paid job she hopes can give her the kind of no fuss, solitary lifestyle in which she might find some solace. She’s dropped off at the house of the elderly dementia sufferer she’s the overnight care for, deep in the English countryside; her abrupt boss barking out instructions but little encouragement. As the day shift departs, Emily’s left alone in this rambling house, with only the near-comatose Arthur for company. With just a few rooms on the ground floor in use, the rest of the residence has been mothballed.
With the set-up of The Haunted established in minutes, it’s down to the character of Emily to carry the rest of the film. Sophie Stevens puts in a terrific, uninhibited performance as the unfortunate carer. She’s helped in the task by the fact that writer-director David Holroyd gifts Emily with making credible, emotionally intelligent responses to her worsening predicament. She has to balance her disbelief and rising terror against her instincts not to abandon Arthur to some terrible fate at ghostly hands. Which means she’s stuck in the four walls of his horribly haunted home.
Both the sound design and the cinematography of The Haunted play things straight. The house is framed as an endless maze of doors, corridors, stairwells, and antechambers, through which Emily must pick her way. She’s alarmed by knocks, clangs, bangs, and clumping footsteps. As she creeps past the shadows and dustsheets, she finds items misplaced and things flitting past in her peripheral vision. And then something leaps out of the darkness.
As the tension ratchets up, familiar devices, including CCTV and a Ouija board, play small roles in moving the plot forward, But most of the action comes from the eerie chill of Emily being trapped alone in the lair of something that seems to resent her presence. That won’t be enough for viewers wanting ‘more’ than claustrophobic unease and boo-shocks, but The Haunted is aiming for the psychological and not the horror jugular.
It’s not without its flaws. Sometimes the camera provides a third-person vantage point that anticipates Emily’s arrival in a cellar or attic space, undermining the tension that comes from being at her side as she inches forward into the darkness. And while the 75-minute runtime keeps things tightly focused, the closing revelations would have more impact if they didn’t feel so rushed. That aside, The Haunted succeeds as a taut, engaging chiller. And right now, it’s not hard to empathise with the plight of someone who finds themselves stuck in the house under lockdown, with only caring responsibilities to distract them.