DVD REVIEW: THE HAUNTING OF RADCLIFFE HOUSE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: NICK WILLING / SCREENPLAY: NICK WILLING / STARRING: OLIVIA WILLIAMS, MATTHEW MODINE, ANTONIA CLARKE, ADAM THOMAS WRIGHT / RELEASE DATE: MAY 11TH
Gorgeous establishing shots, music a cross between wind and groan, and the appearance of a battered car open the extremely strange tale of The Haunting of Radcliffe House. The story follows a couple (Matthew Modine and Olivia Williams) and their children as they head off to a dilapidated residence with a view to fixing both it and, presumably, their obviously splintered relationships. The Yorkshire setting is bleak yet beautiful and comes with the promise of peculiar places, and even more peculiar people.
The film is an almost surreal concoction which shifts between being a credibly creepy piece and something that is outright camp in places. It doesn’t so much show too much as make all of its characters seem somewhat illusory, emphasising their disconnection from themselves and their situations. Indeed, because of the way things are revealed, it encourages you to watch the story rather than simply anticipating jump scares. This allows its theme of folklore to clash with the flexible realities of modern life and show just how far we maybe haven’t come in where we place our faith. Though this is nothing new, it works well here as it enables details including Simon Boswell’s awe-inspiring score to lend a profoundly metaphysical quality that prevents the film’s overall execution from destroying its paradoxical pathos.
The acting is both the film’s selling point and its curse. Modine provides several early, atmospheric mood shifts and Williams has some utterly scorching moments. They also share an eerily understated sequence in which their recollections of the artistry of romantic literature dissipate into weariness where real connection is just out of reach. The other performers are also largely believable. Their performances may seem outlandish but instead reflect the clash of people from very different cultures, and Adam Thomas Wright is one to watch as his appearance and mannerisms tease out further themes.
The slight caveat sensed is the direction. Several sections lapse too far into a humour that apes Hammer horror but drips away too much tension. It feels like a children’s film at points because of this handling. Yet tension does remain – cinematographer Jan Richter-Friis and the locations team deserve a medal for finding a pile straight from the gothic imagination that becomes a jangling character in its own right. A few of the later settings may irritate due to their appearance, but they express the disorientation (mental and physical) that the characters experience.
The mechanics of the story are its most divisive factor. It gives relatively little information on its source material (which is based on some semblance of truth) and expects its audience to imagine the rest in line with the traditions of horror cinema it references. That said, its use of quick cuts and differing angles also create a few sequences that are genuinely upsetting because of their basis in all-too-common reality.
The Haunting of Radcliffe House is very uneven in places. That said, and despite its clichés, it still manages to leave an imprint of the inexplicable.
Special Features: None
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