Charlie Steeds has made a name for himself in horror circles. And with films such as Cannibal Farm and The Barge People, it’s not for quiet, restrained, English ghost stories. But that’s the path he’s going down with An English Haunting. An old fashioned ghost story set in a decaying old mansion out in the countryside. Can he make the transition to a more traditional, slow-burn film? Or will it end up like the middle third of Winterskin, a boring, talky mess?
Blake Cunningham (David Lenik, The Curse Of Halloween Jack) and his bitter, alcoholic mother Margot (Tessa Wood, The Last House On Cemetery Lane) are called to her estranged father’s mansion. Aubrey (Barrington De La Roche, Blood Moon) is bedridden in what appears to be a catatonic state. Mrs. Clark (Emma Spurgin Hussey, Sacrilege) tells them that the woman who was caring for him left suddenly. With no other option, they agree to stay and care for him.
But they’ll soon find out she left with good reason. Clemonte Hall has some dark secrets. And it doesn’t take long for things to start happening. Things that go from odd to terrifying to deadly.
An English Haunting is set in the 1960s, which serves two purposes. It eliminates the need to explain away modern technology which can kill a film’s sense of isolation. And it evokes the films of the 60s and early 70s. And the novels of Dennis Wheatley too for that matter, though outside of the UK that may not mean much.
With her cutting comments directed towards her father right from the film’s start and her focus on the estate’s wine cellar, Margot comes off as anything but sympathetic. But as the plot reveals things, we see she may have a good reason for her bitterness. The two leads are, for the most part, relatable and act in fairly logical ways. It’s things like this that give An English Haunting more depth, and effectiveness than films like Abigail Haunting.
The haunting itself is nicely done. It builds from the usual nightmares and strange noises into something a lot more sinister. A lot is left unexplained, but we learn enough to know that some serious evil has been going on in that mansion. It’s also told with a minimum of effects or gore, something unusual for Steeds. And he does a good job of building the tension without them up until the final act.
Unfortunately, that final act also contains my major gripe with An English Haunting. While Blake is hardly action hero material, he is willing to take risks and deal with shit. So to have him suddenly totally fall apart is out of character and annoying as hell. I get what Steeds is setting up with it, but there were better ways to do it.
Overall though An English Haunting is a superior haunted house film. Graham Plowman’s score accentuates the happenings perfectly and adds a final layer of polish. It’s just too bad it starts to come off the rails at the end.
High Fliers Films will release An English Haunting in the UK on April 27th. High Octane Pictures will handle its US release. You can check the film’s Facebook page for details.