Has it been so long? That I saw this trailer in the early fall of last year, frustrated at the wait through the winter months? And fittingly so, it was nearly a half hour drive through a couple inches of snow across town to get to the theater. While outside the snow painted Colorado Valentines against the trees, inside was a foggy gothic romance of different variety.
Out with it: I was underwhelmed. But that’s not to say it was bad.
The trailer promised eerie mansions, fog-enshrouded countryside, brambly graves, screaming spirits, candlelight, carriages, and heavy doses of shadows thick enough to part by hand and eeriness like blood in Kubrick doses.
And here you get exactly that. Which is really the biggest problem with the movie; it promises a return to the gothic, that brand of horror that seems so forgotten in favor of possessions, shaky found-footage, gore-fests, and teen death-flicks. But the Gothic alone is not enough–
for me anyway.
Which is to say, it’s great fun. We had a great audience, yelping at all the good parts, laughing afterward, and fully embracing the more lighthearted moments designed to lessen the oppressive mood. The first three quarters of the film is a theme park ride. You get about an hour of Daniel Radcliffe wandering the hallways looking frightened finding nothing behind doors but jump-scares. And oh, the jump scares. Entertaining if you treat all horror movies with the entertainment of Paranormal Activity, but doesn’t the Gothic demand something a bit more subtle? A steady building of dread through setting and mood alone? Rather than gimmicks? Add in a good dose of village people forcing shady conspiratorial looks that quickly turn obvious and you’ve got, well… a ghost flick.
The last half hour finally pulls back the curtain for screaming veiled ladies and dark-eyed children, which are well done. In fact, during one of the more climactic finales, I actually got chills–to which I’m not sure a horror movie has ever done before. Past that it’s a glorified episode from first season Supernatural.
Anything deeper… there’s interplay between women in black and women in white, touches of the emotion of parenthood and the suffering of losing children and loved ones (a touch at best though; indeed for as much loss as there is in the movie, the director seemed to think the brooding landscape alone was enough emotional study than to really dwell on the drama of what any one of these townsfolk or main characters was going through). There’s cinematography that really only leans on the spectacle of the setting. Even the deeper themes were overt, beating us over the head with ideas of lost souls and hope of reunions beyond the grave.
And then there’s Daniel Radcliffe, who though his acting was decent enough, looks young enough to be only parading pretend in his father’s suit, let alone donning period costume and having four-year old children.
Yeah, it’s another horror film giving horror a mediocre name. Yeah, it’s another film that could have done far more, taking the gothic to a new level for modern audiences, playing heavier with themes or emotions or more intensely on the stresses that Radcliffe’s Kipps undergoes in the struggle to keep hold of his son and sanity in the face of constant mortal reminders.. But all we really get of that is longing looks at hand-drawn calendar pages and clumsy hugs.
If you dig the gothic, you’ll go away satisfied. But if it’s an intellectual wine and chocolate course you’re hoping for, looks like you have to settle for Barefoot and Hershey’s Dark this time.