Studio: TH Film
Director: David Holroyd
Writer: David Holroyd
Producer: Crispin Manson, Matthew Stradling
Stars: Sophie Stevens, Nick Bayly, Ray MacAllan, Maggie Daniels, Virginia Denham, Kirstie Steele
Left alone overnight to care for a man with Alzheimer’s, a young woman discovers that the man’s house may be haunted.
Film festivals are incredible amounts of fun. Part of the energetic atmosphere stems from smiling casts and crews dressed to the nines excitedly taking step-and-repeat photos on a colored carpet. Not only are many of them seeing a film they made play a big screen for the first time, some are visiting host cities like Hollywood for the first time too, and their enthusiasm over the entire spectacle is absolutely infectious.
Being a critic, nothing sucks out that spirit more than having an unfavorable opinion of a well-meaning indie. You watch aspiring up-and-comers pack a theater with well-wishers who hoot and holler when individual credits appear onscreen. You see everyone hug and hobnob afterward, anxious for back pats and optimistic about opportunities. Then you envision the review you’re about to write as a pin poised to burst those balloons with an oversimplified assertion of, “your movie isn’t good.”
That’s unfortunately where I’m at with writer/director David Holroyd’s “The Haunted,” a grindingly uneventful ghost story that is more slow than burn. Were I watching at home, I would have known to turn it off after 10 minutes, not because the movie is poor, but because it simply isn’t engaging.
At theatrical screenings, I typically scribble between four to six pages of notes on average. For “The Haunted,” I wrote only two pages, which should provide a barometer reading regarding how little there is to talk about.
Emily has been hired as the new nighttime caretaker for Arthur, who lies bedridden with Alzheimer’s in his remote U.K. home. She has to get up to speed swiftly. Day nurses Paul and Mary provide perfunctory instructions before brusquely departing, leaving Emily alone with Arthur for the evening.
What activities does Emily’s itinerary consist of? Chiefly, checking rooms, inspecting closets, poring over photos, thumbing through books, and running her fingers across piano keys. If you want to watch a nondescript woman unhurriedly explore an unremarkable house for the better part of an hour, “The Haunted” has you covered.
Being left on her own only a few minutes into the film, no one exists to tell us anything about what may be going on. Aside from briefly contemplating calling her own father, Emily also doesn’t encounter many personally revealing situations that might entice emotional investment in her uninteresting character.
Due to this dearth of exposition, no reason is given to see anything as scary. In one overheard whisper before they vanish for the rest of the runtime, Mary idly asks, “should we tell her about the house?” Paul responds, “there’s nothing to tell.”
Paul isn’t kidding. Without any backstory about a family curse, a person who died on the property, or masked murderer lurking in the shadows, every creaking door is merely a creaking door devoid of context. If not for the movie’s title and semi-spooky music, there wouldn’t be a hint that the house was haunted.
The house itself holds nearly no inherent creep factor. The exterior seen in the first act and basement featured in the last bear minor earmarks of eeriness. But interiors still depict a modern home whose average architecture and everyday set dressing isn’t visually imposing or ominous in any way at all.
Compounding problems of plainness, every instance of paranormal activity relates almost exclusively to noisy furniture, presenting no discernible physical danger to Emily whatsoever. Hollow spooks consist of creaking doors, creaking floors, creaking chairs, creaking stairs, a ticking grandfather clock, and a flashlight casting shadows on drop cloths.
In defense of the script’s simplicity, the plot stays so skeletal that the twist only works if bare minimum bits of story are divulged along the way. Conversely, the final reveal turns out to be such a sigh-inducing cliché that the payoff isn’t remotely worth the price paid in boredom to get there.
A prime example of a short film concept fighting to fit a feature length, “The Haunted” structures itself according to ‘Haunted House 101’ basics and nothing more. Emily even utters “hello?” and “who’s there?” at faint noises in the dark, as though ticking an ill-informed box with the mindset, “this is how horror works, right?”
Essentially operating with only one woman in one location, “The Haunted” is a movie made because it was simple to write, quick to shoot, and easy to finance. It wasn’t made because the filmmakers had a burning desire to tell this particular story. As a result surprising to no filmgoer who has experienced these feebly familiar frights before, there’s no burning need for anyone to see “The Haunted” either.
Review Score: 40