“Whilst there’s nothing actually terrible about it, there’s nothing that special or original about it either.”
The Haunting of Radcliffe House (originally entitled Altar, fact fans) is the latest film from writer/director Nick Willing, probably best known for the impressively bleak and rather wonderful Photographing Fairies (which really needs to get a good DVD/BluRay release soon). It comes with some good notices (from the Radio Times and Starburst magazines, no less) and certainly sounds intriguing from the blurb. So far so good, but if like me you’ve been searching without success for a really great ghost story for a while now (the only recent exception being the excellent Stephen Volk-penned The Awakening), we’ve been here before and been disappointed, haven’t we? The question is, then, can The Haunting of Radcliffe House deliver where so many others have failed? Well, if I tell you that it’s the story of architect/interior designer Meg (Olivia Williams) and her artist husband Alec (Matthew Modine) moving to a house in Yorkshire (the eponymous Radcliffe House) so that Meg can do it up for a rich client, and that whilst there they encounter supernatural presences, does that sound depressingly familiar or fill you with hope? Yeah, me too.
The Haunting of Radcliffe House follows a basic template set out by most ‘strangers arrive at an old house with a view to taking up residence there’ ghost stories, but the footprints it leaves aren’t anything like as deep or lasting as those of its forbears. There’s an evil contained in Radcliffe House and it starts to influence artistic Alec (you can tell when he goes into properly artistic mode: he starts to wear a patterned bandana which, with his thick woolly jumper – so essential for the Yorkshire climate – and jeans is a frankly odd look), strange things happen, there are strange signs and discoveries, mysterious people arrive at the door and speak elliptically while looking around mysteriously, surly locals are nicely surly and there’s a whole gamut of other things you’d expect to see turning up at the correct moments in the plot. There’s nothing actually wrong with this film; in fact, there’s much to recommend it. Yorkshire’s bleak scenery is used to good effect, the acting is natural and relaxed, the dialogue flows well and the sets are atmospheric and chill. Williams (probably best known as Bruce Willis’ wife from The Sixth Sense) and Modine (presumably brought in to make the film saleable to the US, and looking gaunt and very far removed these days from the beautiful young man he once was) are excellent and the house used is genuinely imposing. There are a couple of very good scenes, including a massage that’s horribly unnerving and a shower scene immediately after in which the viewer can palpably feel the shame and indignity being portrayed onscreen, and the camerawork throughout is glacial and smooth. The problem is, this is a film that’s neither good enough to rave about, nor bad enough to enjoy for its faults. It’s simply ‘meh’, a poor imitation of The Legend of Hell House, The Uninvited, The Haunting or The Shining (which it directly references at one point, a remote control toy truck standing in for Danny’s scuttling pedal car) or any one of countless other movies that deal with houses driving people insane, and whilst there’s nothing actually terrible about it, there’s nothing that special or original about it either. Watching this isn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours, but it’s not a great one either, which is a shame. I had hopes for this one, but it seems I’ll have to keep on looking.
SIMON KURT UNSWORTH
Director: Nick Willing.
Starring: Olivia Williams, Matthew Modine, Antonia Clarke
Release date (UK): DVD 2015
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