Director: John Pogue
Starring: Jared Harris, Sam Claflin, Olivia Cooke, Erin Richards, Rory Fleck-Byrne
Written by: Craig Rosenberg, Oren Moverman, John Pogue and (based on the screenplay) Tom de Ville
Running Time: 98 mins
Release date: 10th April 2014
Those who are regular readers will know that I have soft spot for Hammer Horrors. My mis-spent youth staying up late on a Friday night to catch Christopher Lee as Dracula or Peter Cushing as a mad professor on my small black and white portable. So when they re-emerged, like the phoenix from the flames, a few years back, I put out the banners and held a small celebration party. So now comes the latest in the newly reformed Hammer, a small-scale psychological tale that relies more on the modern way of telling shockers by going for loud noises and shaky cameras to chill. While it annoys me that this is where horror is now, this is better than most, thanks to creepy atmosphere and perfect casting.
1974 and Professor Coupland, an expert in the paranormal, has gathered a small group from his university class to help with the investigation of a young girl who seems possessed by a little girl. Coupland believes that there isn’t such a thing as possession, instead a mental state of mind within emotionally unbalanced individuals who conjure them up. Getting cameraman Brian on board to document the whole experiment, the group struggle with their own personal differences, the university’s funding taking them away from their home to a remote house in the middle of nowhere and Brian finding himself more and more attracted to Jane Harper, the victim, which could jeopardise the whole experiment.
It’s not the most original idea in the world and while it references The Exorcist quite a bit, it doesn’t come close to being as scary or as innovating, yet while it does resort to using the tricks that films like Insidious or The Conjuring use, it does manage to work better than you would expect. Filled to the brim with clichés that are instantly recognisable in these kinds of films (child’s doll, ancient scientific equipment, remote setting) it does play the old card of false scares that lead nowhere but unlike most others, these manage to be forgivable here.
Director John Pogue handles the pace well and by keeping his cast to a minimum, the film moves along nicely while still keeping a level of creepiness within the atmosphere. The use of Super 8 film and a sense of period works well too. Slade was never used so well and so loudly.
What holds the whole thing together is the near perfect casting. The mainly young cast, brimming with energy, keep the whole thing just above believable. Sam Claflin as Brian brings a quiet nativity to his character, as he watches the experiment. Erin Richards, as the “token” blonde, manages to hold her own and Olivia Cooke is particularly wide-eyed and creepy looking as Jane Harper.
The real star, however, is Jared Harris as the Professor Coupland . He would not be amiss in the early Hammer films, in a role that Peter Cushing would do with his hands tied behind his back and blindfolded. His Coupland is perfectly pitched from understanding and calm to completely misunderstood and manic. He has such a strong screen presence that he manages to keep everything afloat
The film does loses its way slightly in the final act and go slightly bonkers but up to then this had been a better than most chiller that show Hammer still has it and hopefully their next venture will be getting closer to their classic status. Don’t go expecting something different of, for that matter, special but fans of the genre will find something they will like and while most critics will be a little sniffy at this, it’s a much better bet than most Hollywood horrors.