Monday, 28 July 2014

Film Review: Blackwood (Wimpenny, 2013)

Films that go bump... In Blackwood, the debut feature by British director Adam Wimpenny, Ed Stoppard plays Ben Marshall, a lecturer not long recovered from a breakdown, who moves with his brood – wife Rachel (Sophia Myles) and son Harry (Isaac Andrews) — to a remote country house in order to take up a new teaching post and give the family a fresh start.

But it’s not long before Ben starts sensing that something is wrong in the house beyond its clanking pipes and messy leaks. He starts being plagued by visions that seem to relate to previous occupants and that suggest that his family might be under threat. Are the visions real? Or could it be that the doctor is cracking up again?
With its strong, theatre-schooled British cast, Blackwood is the kind of film one feels well-disposed towards. And though generic and familiar from the off, it has some intriguing aspects that sustain interest for a while. Indeed, the movie begins promisingly enough, with pleasing forebodings and some well-orchestrated moments of menace. Wimpenny and screenwriter J.S. Hill also prove quite adept at sketching out tense, believable family dynamics: there’s nice work from Stoppard and Myles in these early scenes and engaging stuff from Russell Tovey – as a former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – and from Greg Wise (last seen bopping his way through the likeable Walking on Sunshine), as a colleague of Ben’s with designs on Rachel.

Alas, as the movie progresses, it loses the semblance of intelligence it started out with, succumbing to increasingly nonsensical plot developments. Careless in its handling of minor characters (such as Joanna Vanderham as a PhD student who is the new squeeze of Wise’s character), the movie finally stretches credibility to breaking point. What begins as a Woman in Black/Amityville Horror/Don’t Look Now hybrid (with a touch of The Turn of the Screw and even Kill List on the side) finally degenerates into a risible rip-off of The Shining, complete with histrionic performances and an unnecessarily blood-soaked climax. There’s certainly enough promise in the early sections to suggest that Wimpenny might yet make a worthwhile feature but his resolution of Blackwood proves feeble in the extreme.
Blackwood is released in the UK on 1st August.

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