The creaky country pile is a time-honoured destination for British ghosts, and Adam Wimpenny’s feature-length debut Blackwood draws heavily from both its cinematic and literary ancestors for this atmospheric but derivative horror.
History professor Ben Marshall (Ed Stoppard), his wife Rachel (Sophia Myles) and their son Harry (Isaac Marshall) relocate for a new job and a second chance. Ben is recovering from some kind of emotional breakdown and his short fuse is lit when Harry begins acting up. Is he looking for attention or is there something supernatural afoot?
It’s difficult to talk too much about Blackwood without giving the game away. An event in the film’s final act is what the previous hour or so has been building towards, but the problem is that, by this point, Wimpenny’s grip on the audience has been lost. It’s a very handsome-looking film, with the good location shrouded in atmospheric mist.
The cast is strong, too, but they’re stuck in generic types for the most part. Stoppard (Upstairs Downstairs) works hard to make his Jack Torrance role sympathetic, while Myles (Underworld) delivers a strong turn but is stuck in the “put-upon wife” part.
The supporting cast fares better, with Russell Tovey (Being Human) bringing threat to his haunted handyman and Paul Kaye (Game Of Thrones) surprisingly effective as a secretive priest.
The screenplay by JS. Hill knows that the audience is familiar with the tropes, traditions and cliches of the haunted house movie from MR James to Guillermo del Toro and puts them on display. However, because we’re so familiar with them, it’s difficult to remain engaged as Blackwood makes its way towards its conclusion. It feels like we’re watching a well-produced, moderately entertaining television drama and, when the revelation comes, it’s clever but not quite clever enough to justify the film playing by the rules for so long.
Well-shot and well-performed, Blackwood is by no means a disaster but it’s an overly familiar ghost story that isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is.