Greetings again from the darkness. It’s the first feature film for writer-director Joe Marcantonio and his co-writer Jason McColgan, which might explain why the film starts strong before faltering, mostly salvaged by three strong performances. Eighteen months into their relationship, veterinarian Ben (Edward Holcroft, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, 2014) and Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) break the news to his mother that they are moving from England to Australia. Mum is none too pleased, as she expects her son to carry on the legacy of nine generations that have lived in the now dilapidated (and isolated) family estate.
Ben’s overbearing mother is Margaret (Fiona Shaw, Petunia in the Harry Potter movies) and she lives in the drafty mansion with Ben’s step-brother Thomas (Jack Lowden, TOMMY’S HONOUR, 2016), who seems more man-servant than son to Margaret. Charlotte soon discovers she’s pregnant, and while Ben is thrilled, she is unsure whether she even wants to keep the baby. Her own mother’s history plays a significant role in her uncertainty. A freak on-the-job accident kills Ben, and Charlotte soon finds herself … um … a guest of Margaret and Thomas. She’s the type of guest that’s not allowed to leave or make phone calls. Yep, she’s being held captive under the guise of this being in the best interest of her baby.
While Margaret is straight-forward vile and ignoble towards Charlotte, Thomas is more difficult to read … albeit no less off-center. Clearly both have a vision for where this is all headed. Margaret spills hers in a terrific scene where she lets her guard down with Charlotte, while Thomas is perfectly creepy and overuses the “making a quiche” punchline. For her part, Charlotte frequently passes out and has recurring dreams featuring birds/ravens/crows … and as fans of horror can tell you, that’s never a good sign. Has Charlotte been drugged or is she being gaslighted by Margaret and Thomas?
Director Marcantonio has delivered a psychological thriller that’s more frustrating than haunting. It has vibes of the classic ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) sans Satan, but of course, is not at that level – although we do get the chilling doctor played here by Anton Lesser. Charlotte is the proverbial trapped damsel, but the film falls into a pattern of ‘escape-capture-repeat’. It also attempts to use music, but the combination of Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”, Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1, and the long-time standard “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, reaches overload. The Production Design from Derek Wallace and Set Decoration by John Neligan are top notch, but in the end, the frustration we feel overrides any creep factor or strong performance. It’s a near miss.