Writer & Director: Nick Willing
Cast: Matthew Modine, Olivia Williams, Antonia Clarke, Adam Thomas Clarke
Running Time: 89 minutes
UK DVD Release date: 11th May 2015
UK Certificate: 15
A decent premise with some good performances, but it just falls short of the mark.
The Haunting of Radcliffe House (originally entitled Altar) starts promisingly, establishing our expectations and tantalising us with memories of classics such as The Shining and The Innocents. Unfortunately however, it just can’t live up to such lofty heights and you may be left wondering if the original intention was somewhat watered down.
The story begins when Meg Hamilton (Olivia Williams, Sixth Sense) takes her family to an empty old countryside house that she is renovating for a wealthy client and which the family will make their home for the next few months. Naturally however, the house has a rather dark past and we swiftly learn that the previous owner (an artist) dabbled in the occult, murdered his wife and subsequently committed suicide. Local people are wary of the house and not overly willing to help Meg with her renovation work, then strange images appear in photographs and ghostly figures stalk the grounds. Whilst this might send most of us screaming for the door, the family’s resources are tight, so they have little choice but to make the best of what we all know will turn in to a very bad situation.
Meg’s husband, Alec, a struggling artist looking for his next flash of inspiration finds it’s not long before he feels the dark force of the house and its history spreading over him. Matthew Modine does a good job of portraying the slowly possessed Alec, particularly in the early part of the film, where the gradual obsession and introspective attitude of the character works well. As he begins to make an artistic breakthrough, his relationship with his wife becomes unsettling and you find yourself drawn in psychologically; a scene where Alec massages his wife particularly disturbs. Olivia Williams plays well against Modine’s Alec, as she becomes equally confused and disgusted by his behaviour. It is these intimate moments spent together that engage and leave you wanting more, however it tends to feel as if the surface is merely scratched before the scalpel is put away.
When daughter Penny (Antonia Clarke) finally encounters the ghostly apparition of the murdered wife (Isabella) it doesn’t quite have the effect it should, relying perhaps too much on jump cuts and camera technique rather than the actors themselves. Having said that, Clarke does a great job of portraying the terrified Penny, and it will be interesting to see what roles she will take on next.
With the growing presence of the ghostly Isabella and the possession of Alec, the setting should rise to the occasion. Yet I found myself looking for shadows and straining for figures, waiting for the terror to unfurl and disappointed that it never really did. When one creeping figure does cause a jump, I wasn’t quite clear who or what it was meant to be. Equally, the back story of the original owners never feels fully explored and what we do learn just doesn’t quite add up. Craving further depths to the psychological nature of the story, the film doesn’t sit together well as a whole.
Writer and Director Nick Willing has a good body of work behind him and he does create some nice moments; the walls breathing, long corridor shots, the sense of the house being in control and changing at will. Yet, unfortunately, the story doesn’t convince and you’re left feeling that the boundaries could have been pushed further. On the whole, The Haunting of Radcliffe House should have been so much more than the sum of its parts.
5 out of 10