Blackwood (2013)

July 29th, 2014
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Adam Wimpenny

Cast: Grey Wise,

Gothic horror/Fantasy

With a modest budget, a respectable cast of minor British acting talent and a quaint Oxfordshire setting, Adam Wimpenny has made a piece of fantasy horror that looks rather good.

It has Ed Stoppard as Ben Marshall, a high-flying Oxford professor whose recent mental breakdown has forced him into a less pressurised role in a minor university. With his wife Rachel (Sophia Myles) and young son Harry (Isaac Andrews), he hopes the change will help him recover and save their marriage and family life. But their move to Blackwood, a deserted manor house deep in the English countryside, gets off to a inauspicious start after a series of unsettling things that go bump in the night, and during the daytime too.

Local vicar Father Patrick (Paul Kaye) doesn’t exactly calm Ben’s fears by suggesting that the house may indeed be haunted by the victim of an unsolved murder. Their neighbour Jack (Russell Tovey), an ex-soldier, doesn’t instil Ben’s confidence either: he too is suffering emotional trauma. But it’s the arrival of Rachel’s flirty ex, Dominic (Greg Wise), that finally sends Ben into turmoil-  suggesting that he may be cracking up again.

Cinematographer Dale McReady does a brilliant job of lensing this good-looking Britflic with its Autumnal hues and lush countryside. Gorgeously shot on digital 35mm, Blackwood has the feel of a much more expensive production. Lorne Balfe’s atmospheric score also conjurs up some very unsettling vibes deep in the shires.

The problem is the story and characters feel very predictable, pushing all the right buttons, but staying in very safe territory narrative-wise: weird animal masks; lightening flashes; clocks that stop and start; mentally unstable loners: these cliches all are all textbook tropes in the horror arsenal, so Blackwood doesn’t feel very scary. The cast perform their tricks well, but they are predominantly known for their TV work; making this feel very much like a decent episode of ‘Midsomer Murders’.

So, Blackwood is a reasonable and well-made debut but let’s hope that Adam Wimpenny will really set the night on fire with something really different next time around. MT


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