AN ENGLISH HAUNTING *** UK 2020 Dir: Charlie Steeds. 89 mins
A welcome venture into old-fashioned Bad House territory for the prolific writer-director of ESCAPE FROM CANNIBAL FARM, WINTERSKIN and THE BARGE PEOPLE. It benefits considerably from a fabulous backdrop: the remote country manor house Clemonte Hall is the suitably unwelcoming setting, sometime in the 1960’s, that greets alcoholic divorcee Tessa Wood and her grown-up son (David Lenik). She has been called as a last resort to care for her bed-ridden, senile old dad (Barrington De La Roche) after his previous nurse was sufficiently freaked out by him to abandon ship. Wood is happy for a free place to stay and hopeful that the old man will die as soon as possible, alluding to him as a nasty piece of work with “macabre interests”. As she faces her own childhood demons, her son locates old recordings by the ancient patriarch, capturing his daily “research” and the fate of a young boy, Jacob, who frequented the house.
Steeds adeptly captures the ambience of a vast, faded property blemished by past human-perpetrated horrors – and effectively deploys familiar tricks and tropes: creaking doors, nocturnal descents into the wine cellar, toys moving of their own accord and chairs rocking by themselves. Resembling an uglied-up Mick Garris auditioning for a role in a GREASY STRANGLER sequel, De La Roche is a genuinely unpleasant presence, and the backstory is appropriately grim. For a while it has the look and feel of a decent Sunday night BBC ghost story, with a couple of fashionable jump scares and authentic performances. It’s stronger, like many of these things, in its quieter build-up than it is when the final half-hour goes full-tilt melodrama – complete with sledgehammers, musical nods to THE OMEN, possession and a big fire.
Review by Steven West