The first few minutes of Entity establish its style very quickly: the opening minutes show grainy, flickering video footage of a shaven-headed, emaciated man in a bare, dark cell with a metal-framed bed. First in an institutional smock, then naked, he sobs, moans, shakes, and finally levitates.
This is followed by an opening sequence consisting of shots of a bare winter wood, and a camera crew moving through it. Entity is not – thankfully, in a period near-glutted with the things – a found-footage film. It combines sequences shot in that style with a more polished, almost lyrical terror built through more traditional ‘third person’ filmmaking. To director Steve Stone’s credit, it achieves a cruelly effective synthesis of the two.
Several years ago, at Sadovich, a remote location in Northern Russia, 34 bodies, male and female, were discovered in shallow graves. The police investigation was quickly closed, with neither victims, perpetrators, nor even the cause of death, identified. Now, a camera crew from the UK TV show Darkest Secrets, led by Kate (Riley) revisits the scene, with cameraman Matt (Hill), sound guy David (Jackson), local author-cum-guide Yuri (Tomovic) and psychic Ruth Peacock (Kirwan) in tow.
It doesn’t take Ruth long to identify the field where the bodies were found, to start seeing the victims’ ghosts, or indeed, to relive their deaths. It soon becomes clear the executions were carried out by the Soviet authorities. Ruth’s psychic abilities lead her through the woods to an abandoned, grim-looking building. Further investigation uncovers evidence of appalling institutional torture and cruelty, and slowly Ruth comes to realise what Sadovich is: a Cold War experimental facility designed to transform people like herself into a weapons system for assassination and sabotage. When it failed, the facility was shut down and the surviving inmates executed. But while most of the dead are only anguished, there’s one who’s different. Known only as Mischka, he’s full of rage and wants only vengeance, and he has the power to enact it. Meanwhile, it becomes clear that Yuri, the guide, has his own agenda for coming to Sadovich.
Entity’s storyline was apparently inspired by its locations in Riccall, Yorkshire and was written to be filmed there, much as Brad Anderson’s Session 9 was written ‘for’ Danvers State Hospital (although Sadovich’s horrors – one hopes, at least – are fictional). Stone milks the grim, functional location for all it’s worth, and shows a fine sense of when a glimpse of something is far better than a sustained look, or indeed when it’s better to show nothing at all.
Another advantage of Stone’s technique is that it’s able to establish very early on the unambiguous nature of Ruth’s psychic abilities, even though the dead of Sadovich are initially only visible to her, and thus extend the range of options he has to scare the daylights out of the viewer. Be assured that he takes full advantage of these.
Entity also features great use of sound – both in Dave S Walker’s atmospheric score and in Mark Ashworth’s superlative sound design which lays down a constant backdrop of noise – quiet and loud – the combination of which swiftl and lastingly establish Sadovich as a place of terrible threat. Special mention should also go to the haunting and beautiful Penitential Hymn that appears over the opening and end credits (This Is Horror are informed this wasn’t composed by Mr Walker, but are currently checking with the filmmakers to confirm its authorship).
Dervla Kirwan is, as always, excellent in the role of Ruth, all haunted, glacial calm underlaid with intense, repressed emotion. The rest of the cast, particularly Riley and Tomovic, rise to the occasion admirably. Charlotte Riley’s Kate is clearly in command, ruling the roost with a judicious mixture of personal force and manipulation. When Ruth falters, repelled by the Sadovich complex’s malevolent atmosphere, Kate persuades her to press on by appealing to her compassion for the victims (‘who’s going to tell their stories?’), but with enough humanity and vulnerability to stop her being completely unlikeable. Tomovic’s Yuri never becomes a stereotypical sinister East European, but manages to evoke compassion even when his real purposes are declared.
Entity is genuinely frightening. It combines dread-laden atmospherics with a wealth of ‘jump’ moments’. Fine photography and use of sound, an intelligent script and strong performances add to the blood-chilling effect. Well worth a look.