Friday, June 6, 2014

Trifecta Of Terror: The British Ghosts Gone Wild Stakes


In today's installment of Trifecta Of Terror!, we reach into the world of spirits.  Ghosts are a pretty popular subject when it comes to horror, and there is a plethora of films to choose from. I've incorporated a more specific theme here, in that the characters in these films are quite literally attempting to create (or at least entice) an entity to appear. In all three, someone is actually trying to disprove the existence of ghosts. Additionally, these are all "period" films made-in-the-UK, lending an international flavor to this "competition".

To recap, in each Trifecta of Terror!, I choose three films with a similar topic or like-minded theme that would compliment each other and put them in the order that represents a win (the best film of the three), a place (second place finisher) and a show (the third place finisher). And with a Triple Crown of horse racing on the line tomorrow in the Belmont Stakes, I couldn't miss the opportunity to get this post in before post-time! (See what I did there?)

First up is our "show" film.  This third-place finisher is 1995's HAUNTED, starring Aidan Quinn and the (sometimes naked) Kate Beckinsale.  Quinn stars as Professor David Ash, an expert in the field of parapsychology.  He's literally written the book on how to debunk ghosts and when the film opens he has been summoned by the Mariel family to come and investigate a supposed haunting at their estate, Edbrook.
David struggles with his desire to disprove the existence of ghosts because of the untimely death of his twin sister when they were young.  He blames himself and in turn seems unwilling to believe that she at times appears to him.  At Edbrook, he meets the charismatic and flirtatious Christina (Beckinsale), who with her brothers and their fragile-minded Nanny Tess (Anna Massey) make up a very strange and exceptionally "close" family.  Brothers Simon (Alex Lowe) and Robert (Anthony Andrews) are less than enthused when Christina seems to take a particular interest in David and try to discourage him from staying on at the house.  Adding to this, during David's investigation he begins to have what he believes are hallucinations- including seeing his dead sister who repeatedly warns him to leave Edbrook. 

While there are no ghastly scares to be found - and certainly none of the red stuff - Haunted does present a cohesive plot and certainly puts the fun in dysfunctional family.  As Christina makes her mind up to seduce David, her brother Robert seems a little too pissed at the idea, and further evidence of the strange family ties is indisputable when David witnesses Robert painting a portrait of Christina.  A nude portrait. 
Regardless, Haunted does have appeal for the ghost-story loving crowd and is certainly worth a look.


Coming in as our "place" film, we have the recently released  THE QUIET ONES, in which we travel back to the 70's to Oxford where Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) is entertaining the idea that anything that is deemed unexplained or supernatural is indeed mental illness.  He's gathered a few students together to set up an experiment at a house in the country in which he will "prove" that a young woman's supposed ability to cause paranormal activity is a psychological disease and not an unearthly skill of unexplained reasoning. The subject, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel), has been living in foster homes most of her life and has been continually subjected to loud rock music while locked in a tiny room in order to try and produce the desired effect (in other words, paranormal activity).  As the Professor continues with his increasingly unethical experiments, one of the students, Brian (Sam Claflin) takes a particular interest in Jane and delves into her disturbing history which leads him to - of all things - possible devil worship as well as the predictable demonic possession.

This film had mixed reviews when it came out, and in fact performed poorly at the box office - but I saw it at the theater and enjoyed it.  While I wouldn't say it blew me away, I did like the concept and thought the acting made it worthwhile, in particular Cooke, whom I had only seen in Bates Motel (where I like her character very much and think she is an above-average actress).  There were the obligatory jump scares, which dumbed-down the plot a bit, but for the most part the film reeked of foreboding atmosphere, particularly in those shadowy corners of a dark house. You could do a lot worse than this recent Hammer production on a rainy Saturday afternoon. 

And for our winner: 2011's THE AWAKENING.
We've already reviewed this film (in fact it was Marie's first review here over two years ago!) but it is a great, atmospheric haunted house film that deserves to be mentioned once again. Rebecca Hall stars as Florence Cathcart, a woman with a lost love in her past and a chip on her shoulder.  She's taken to debunking supposed ghosts and like our hero from Haunted, she is also a published author on the subject. When she is called upon by Robert Mallory (Dominic West), a teacher at a boarding school to investigate a "real" ghost on premises, she at first declines, but has a change of heart and makes the trip.
In the process of investigating by setting up "traps" for a spirit to trigger, she discovers that the "ghost" may be that of a boy that had a fatal asthma attack after being reprimanded by a harsh teacher.  As school lets out at the end of a semester, only a few adults (including herself, Mallory, housekeeper Maud (Imelda Staunton), and one student -Tom (Isaac Hempstead-Wright)- remain behind.  When Florence is about to leave for good (feeling her work is done by assuming that the boys at the school have been pulling pranks since the other boy's death), she nearly drowns after falling into the pond.  Thinking that a hand had pulled her in, Florence deepens her scrutiny into the ghost theory and finds much more than she bargained for. 

At once atmospheric and ominous, The Awakening has a lot to offer fans of ghost and hauntings.  The acting is superb and there are heaps of fun scares that aren't in the least bit cheap or predictable.  Hall carries the bulk of the film with ease and it's a pleasure to watch her get caught up in all the supernatural mystery of the plot. The best parts are when she is bound and determined to unravel a hoax and she instead falls further into the abyss.  As such, I wouldn't put this in the same category as say, The Haunting (1963) or The Innocents (1961), but it's an above-average tale of ghostly antics that is a breath of fresh air in amongst all the blood and gore we call horror, and by far one of the most beautifully shot films I've seen in quite some time.

1 comment:

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