The film opens with children playing in a Victorian / Edwardian nursery and then ominous music and… something happens.
Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a young widdower (and we’re still in period England), struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife in childbirth, and trying to raise the son from that birth whilst his career as a lawyer is at its last ebb. He is given instructions from his employer that he must buck up his ideas or lose everything and so heads off from London to the north east, to the sole and grand house on “Eel Marsh Island”, a tidal island along the lines of Lindisfarne or St Michael’s Mount, accessable at low tide but a true island when the tide comes in, to sort through the papers of the recently deceased owner to make sure he has the final version of her will. On arrival, the locals are in a desperate hurry to get rid of him.
One of the first new films under cult UK Horror label “Hammer” since it ceased production nearly thirty years ago, this has quite a few of the signature ‘calling cards’ of classic Hammer films, though with significantly better production values than many of them. It has a young hero, somewhat ignorant of the world but with some emotional baggage, it has a period setting (the house, particularly, is beautiful). The hero is periodically trapped in a scary location, much scarier at night with daytime providing background to scares to come (like so many Dracula and other vampire films), and it relies on a creepy atmosphere punctuated by occasional sudden surprises, rather than tons of gore, for its horror.
This film reminded me:
Children can be creepy.
Dead children are very creepy.
Antique children’s dolls and toys are the creepiest.
Racliffe is fine in the lead role – I’ve not really followed the Potter franchise, so I don’t have any baggage there but he seems a more than capable actor – and there are ‘name’ actors in Janet McTeer and Ciaran Hinds to play off, making the chills all the more effective for having been set up well. Despite the 12A rating, this is by far the scariest film I’ve seen in a while, something I only realised later in the evening when I had to walk down a poorly lit and lonely path on the edge of town…