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Playhouse (2020) Review

A writer, in this case, a playwright, takes up residence in an old building with a dark past in order to finish their new project. In this case, a past directly related to the play he’s writing. Playhouse, the debut feature from writer/directors Fionn Watts and his brother Toby, credited as The Watts Brothers, takes this rather well-worn bit of plotting as its starting point. Can they bring a fresh perspective to it, or is the past doomed to repeat in film after film?

Horror playwright Jack Travis (William Holstead, Christmas Presence) is having issues writing his newest play. So he buys the Scottish castle where the events took place and move into it along with his daughter Bee (Grace Courtney). Jenny (Helen Mackay, Time Teens: The Beginning) lives nearby with her husband Callum (James Rottger, Going Green). She’s a descendant of one of the main players in that tragedy and is determined to protect her family’s reputation at all costs. But the ghosts of those involved are still in the castle and have plans of their own.

Playhouse Girls hall WS

The tragedy that haunts the castle, which looks more like an oversized manor, involves a horny nobleman and a pregnant serving wench. An illegitimate son walled up alive and a deal with the devil for revenge. Again, not the most original of tales, but suitably grim material for a play. And for Playhouse’s backstory, and eventual main story. And I’m not giving anything away by saying that.

We’re clued in on this via a bitchy game of truth or dare between Bee and a couple of friends. Bee is meant to come off as the moody, troubled product of a broken home. Instead, she just seems like a bitch. And since much of the first act revolves around her, that becomes a problem.

It’s amplified by none of the characters being very likeable. Jack is way too self-absorbed with his grand plan to turn the castle into a tourist destination/playhouse to notice the changes in his daughter. The viewer, however, will notice and guess fairly easily what’s responsible. Jack also has the tendency to simply be an asshole in general.

Playhouse 2

Jenny and Callum squabble endlessly. She wants him to stay away from Jack while he gets the great idea to write a play himself and pester Jack for tips and connections. She knows he’s unhappy in the middle of nowhere, but doesn’t care. She also thinks she has the right to stop Jack from writing about the events of a couple of hundred or so years ago.

Unfortunately, the whole curse angle is shelved for much of the film, and everyone snapping at each other is about all we get until near the hour mark. I don’t mind slow-burn films, but there has to be something to make the slow part worth sitting through. And four obnoxious characters arguing, is not it.

Playhouse Jack with Lantern

The last half hour sees Kathryn (Rebecca Calienda, The Lost, The Thompsons), Jack’s ex, show up. Or maybe he just hallucinates it. Between the spirits of the castle and the ones, he’s drinking, it’s hard to be sure. Either way, you can guess her fate, and where the film goes from there.

Effects are minimal, just a CGI smoke ghost that doesn’t get much screen time. And Playhouse could really have used some effects to liven it up. Because in the end there’s nothing to distinguish it from the hundreds of other similar stories apart from the fact that it’s duller than many of them. Even the Scottish countryside which looked so good in Dark Highlands, The Redwood Massacre and its sequel is wasted.

Devilworks plans a North American VOD release for Playhouse on November 17th.

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