The Woman in Black (2012): Things that Make You Go Boo

Taking the Blu-ray’s message to heart, I didn’t watch it alone. I watched it with my daughter and it still scared me. We both watched the stage version of this film and that scared us silly. I was afraid that the film had some pretty big metaphorical shoes to fill. But I needn’t have worried, the film has as good a scare factor as the play.

Directed by  James Watkins , this was his second time in the drivers seat (the first time was the exceptional Eden Lake) but you’d never know by watching the film that this was his second time at bat.  Daniel Radcliffe does an excellent job of snapping his wand in two and ditching his cape to break away from the Harry Potter universe. I didn’t find my self looking for Hermoine Granger or Ron Weasley once.

The Readers Digest version of the plot is as follows: A Young solicitor (lawyer) loses his wife to childbirth. He mourns her passing so much that he is in danger of losing his job as well. In a bid to help him get back on track, his employer sends him to the north of England to go through a recently deceased widows paperwork to determine if the firm have the most recent will.  The young Solicitor (Arthur Kipps) travels to Cryphin Gifford  a remote village that is closest to the deceased woman’s house Eel Marsh House. While on the train Arthur meets Sam Daily (Played with quiet conviction by actor Ciarán Hinds) who is from the village and Sam offers Arthur a lift to the local inn.

Arthur’s reception is cool to the point of freezing. No one wants him there and they definitely do not want him to go to Eel Marsh House. In fact the only people in the village who do not snub Arthur are Sam and his wife (Janet McTeer). Mrs Daily  is not particularly on the ball. She has never recovered from the loss of their son. Arthur finally gets someone to take him to the mansion.

The film starts with three young girls having a tea party with their dolls. They all stop and look in the same direction. They then wordlessly stand up and go to a triple window. They open the window’s and jump out. We then get to meet Arthur. His wife is giving birth to their son and dies in the process.

The predominant theme in this film is death. It literally seems to ooze from the screen. The cinematography is spot on. The film is set in the Edwardian time period and by gosh it looks authentic. The lighting, the sets and the clothes all help to sell the time period. The lighting was the most crucial factor in helping to make this film scare you. I know my daughter said to me after the third or fourth time that Arthur went into a room without turning on a light, “I keep looking for a light switch!”

The film works on so many different levels. It is of course at its very root a haunted house film, but it is also a good old fashioned ghost story; it’s also a film with the theme of the curse, and last but certainly not least, it’s about an outsider bringing ruin to the village he enters. The film was creepy and scary and, at times, sad.

I am very glad the we did not see this at the cinema, I think I would have had to go home and put a dry pair of trousers on at least three times during the film.

 

Eden Lake (2008) A White Knuckle Ride

Eden Lake

Directed by James Watkins (My Little Eye, Gone) this tale of two young professional urbanites going to the countryside and running into “hoodies from Hell” is a tour de force of white knuckle moments and wincing violence. Watkins uses the film to make a topical statement about juvenile crime‘s increase in the UK and who is responsible for it.

 Kelly Reilly and  Michael Fassbender play the young professional couple Jenny and Steve. Steve has set up a romantic weekend at a lake he remembers from his childhood, It is secluded and a perfect spot for him to propose to his nursery teacher girlfriend. Arriving at the lake, Steve finds that the whole area is to be bulldozed and turned into houses for the “Yuppie” market. He also finds the the secluded area is obviously not so secluded as a gang of local kids seem to be using the area to hang out.
Steve is not best pleased by the appearance of the noisy neighbourhood kids and their dog. Jenny wants to move to another quieter area, but Steve is adamant that they are going to stay. He goes over to the group and asks them to move on. This idea is met with derision and hostility. It is also an open invitation for the youngsters to start harassing the young couple.
Little darlings...not.
Little darlings…not.
The harassment starts with the group just being noisier, before moving off sometime in the middle of the night.  After waking Steve and Jenny find the food they brought has been invaded by insects. They decided to go into town for a meal and to buy provisions. As the couple drive off, they run over something left by the kids and get a flat tire.
Steve replaces the tire and they drive to a cafe in town. While eating their meal they see the kids from the lake in town. Steve asks the waitress if she knows the kids as he wants to talk to their parents about the tire. The waitress becomes very defensive and says, “My kids would never do that.”
Things between the kids and the young couple escalate. Steve angrily confronts the children and one of them takes out a knife. Steve struggles with the boy and during the struggle accidentally kills one of the boy’s dog. The leader of the pack, a lad called Brett (played brilliantly by Jack O’Connell) who is visibly upset, tells Steve and Jenny to go. Steve tries to apologise for the killing of the dog, but the children ignore him.
Steve and Jenny decide they have had enough and start to leave. Brett, however has had a change of heart and has now decided that his gang are going to exact retribution for the death of the dog. So begins a heart pounding, cringe making attack by the children and Steve and Jenny’s attempt to escape.
Deadly hide and seek.
Deadly hide and seek.
James Watkins is another of those British directors that specialises in writing and directing low budget films that grip you. Made in 2008. Eden Lake takes a look at what was considered by  many to be a frighting increase in juvenile crime. The new millennium saw the emergence of the hoodie.
These hooded sweatshirts were the common uniform sported by gangs and other juvenile delinquents who had no problems breaking the law. Their emergence coincided with the courts in England becoming so lenient in terms of punishment for juvenile offenders that law abiding citizens started to fear these young criminals. Watkins’ message seems to be that it is the parents who are to blame.
This film is not easy to watch. I found myself repeatedly getting angry at the “grown-up” characters and their annoying combination of naivety and belief that, until the end, they could solve it all by talking. The calibre of performances was top notch. The location they chose for filming was spot-on, it looked like your average English town.
In fact there is a pub in the film that is a spitting image of a pub outside of Norwich, Norfolk. My daughter and I shiver every time we drive past it and I can’t help but drive a little bit faster.
Not your local friendly village pub.
Not your local friendly village pub.

Mum and Dad: Keeping Horror in the Family

Shot with an estimated budget of just £100,000 ($157,000) this film sets the goal posts for “shoe string budget” films.  First time director Steven Sheil also wrote the film, putting him in the illustrious company of peers like Shane Meadows (Dead Man’s Shoes and This is England) and James Watkins (Eden Lake). This small elite group of British film makers have made brilliant and successful   films that they wrote and directed for  ridiculously tiny amounts of money.
The horror film Mum and Dad shows us first hand what happens when we talk to strangers or trust them. It also proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you really don’t know the people you work with.
The films starts out in Heathrow Airport where cleaner Lena (played by Holby City Alumnus Olga Fedori)  gets to know her fellow workers, brother and sister team, Birdie and Elbie (Ainsley Howard and Toby Alexander). Birdie takes a shine to Lena and tells her about her wonderful parents. Lena explains that she doesn’t get along with her parents and wants to move away from home. At the end of their shift, Lena misses her bus home, and Birdie invites Lena to stay at her house which is near the end of a runway. Lena agrees and follows Birdie and Elbie to a gap in the runway security fence. Clamouring through the gap, they all proceed to the house.
After arriving in Birdie and Elbie’s home, the brother and sister disappear leaving Lena alone. She just starts to explore the house when she meets Dad (played brilliantly by actor Perry Benson) who knocks her out and injects her with something. Lena regains conciousness only to find that she is in a dark room. All she can hear are the tortured screams of someone in the house. Dad then enters the room with Mum (played with sinister madness by Dido Miles). Mum tells  Lena that she will belong to her and she injects Lena again.
The  film deals with a host of indignities inflicted upon Lena. Watching the film, I kept wondering who was going to rape Lena first, Mum or Dad. The entire household appear to be insane sexual deviants who rely on stolen items from the airport to help them get by. It also turns out that Birdie and Elbie are “adopted” just as Lena will be. The only real child that Mum and Dad have is a daughter who is chained to her bed in an attic room.  The daughter suffered severe brain damage after being born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Dad explains, quite gleefully, that as she was a home delivery he had to cut the cord with his teeth.
Lena soon realises that if she does not escape, she will become the mad couples new “daughter.”   Mum and Dad  explain that other “children” who could not  behave were disposed of.  Since their definition of behaving includes being tortured and sexually molested, Lena  starts playing Mum, Dad, Birdie and Elbie against one another with the hope of getting away.
Steven Sheil  based his film on real life rapists and serial killers Fred and Rosemary West whose victims included their own flesh and blood daughter. The film could have been very grim viewing but the director has taken a lot of the sting out of the tale by injecting large doses of black humour. I found myself cringing one moment and laughing the next. The film  deals  with taboo issues such as cannibalism, sexual fetishes, and incest on top of the main topics of kidnapping, murder and theft.
The title of this review could very easily have been Mum and Dad: Horror on a Budget. The director and the cast and crew have proven you don’t need big Hollywood type funds to make an entertaining film.  Writer/director Steven Sheil has produced a film that has been hailed as one of the most disturbing Brit-Horror films to emerge  in recent years. Do not watch this film if you are at all squeamish, but if you can stand a lot of gore, this is a must-see.
Personally, I cannot wait to see what Steven Sheil has in store for us in his next feature.