If you’ve ever been seriously unlucky, you’ll know that £200 a day sounds like a nice amount of money. Getting it wouldn’t involve a lot of work, says Isaac (Jonathan French). It’s just for a little babysitting – for a schizophrenic young adult woman, essentially harmless but likely to get in trouble if left unattended, and vulnerable right now because she insists on staying in a house isolated where her father committed suicide, while she struggles to deal with his death. Isaac is cautious but he can’t afford to refuse. It’s not until he’s been chased there that he realizes the house is on an island and he can’t swim. It was not until he was rowed there – in a boat that would return to the other bank – that he was told that, to calm the young woman, he would have to lock her in a harness attached to a long chain. , which will only serve to allow him access to limited parts of the house.
Most people would try to back down at this point, and, indeed, Isaac does, but he is unable to assert himself enough against the much wealthier and more confident “friend” who won him over. It soon becomes clear that he himself is mentally fragile, recovering from an accident. He spends a lot of time looking at a photo of himself with his brother, giving the impression that the latter is dead. An unkempt-looking dog (the excellent Jed) outside the house offers a friendly welcome, but since he’s also tied up, their interaction is limited. At least her charge, Olga (Leila Sykes), seems harmless enough, sitting against a wall in a catatonic stupor – until she starts wandering around with a crossbow. As pictures begin to spin and fall from the walls, doors mysteriously open and close, and a drumming bunny toy begins to hint at a sinister presence, Isaac realizes he is far from his depth – but at this point he can’t do much about it.
There is good work here. Damian McCarthy, on his first feature film, proves to be a competent director. The scenes with the rabbit are particularly well put together, and he understands where lingering on this or that object is more effective than going back and forth. it sets a good rhythm and knows when to break it without relying too much on cliche, even if a derivative score somewhat undermines that. Unfortunately, as a writer, he still has a lot to learn, and no matter how good everything else is, it’s impossible to make a good movie out of a weak script.
Some of the problems will be obvious to everyone. There are plenty of easy ways out of the harness, but these are ignored most of the time, before our desperate hero resorts to a harder approach. Several scenes rely on characters trying to cut through drywall, and they use the proper tool to do so (Mc Carthy worked in construction), but since they don’t care if it’s damaged, it’s unclear not why they don’t. just fight your way through instead, especially after it’s weakened. Although the sound design is very good, you can barely hear the channel, which should move to other parts of the house as well as next to Isaac. Although he moves around many turns, he never hangs on, and sometimes we see him dragging behind him at hip height, not dragging like he should – something that’s quite distracting in a film where we We’re supposed to be mindful of visual quirks.
The real problems here, however, lie deeper. McCarthy made a classic mistake of writing a lot of stuff he loves and not wanting to part with it. The central story is convoluted to begin with, and the addition of several adjoining mysteries means that there are too many possible answers to every question raised along the way, depriving viewers of the opportunity to figure it out for themselves and, in some cases, making the characters’ own reasoning break down where it shouldn’t.
The Frenchman is very impressive in the lead, and carries the film so well that for most of its runtime, it’s watchable despite these issues. He makes it work emotionally where logic fails, and the combination of vulnerability, courage, and inventiveness he brings to his character makes him easy to root for. Sykes is also good. His performance is a breath of fresh air after a century of crude and exploitative cinematic depictions of schizophrenia. Obviously untreated, Olga is a character that follows her own logic, sometimes seeming very ordinary, sometimes just subtly quirky; unpredictable but internally consistent. For that, McCarthy also deserves praise. There is an element of tragedy in some of her interactions with Isaac, where they seem to need each other’s help but are unable to engage successfully due to their irreconcilable differences in perspective.
In short, this is a massively overambitious debut feature that really struggles as a result, but showcases some noteworthy talent nonetheless. It is hoped that McCarthy will learn from his mistakes and move on to future projects with a better sense of what he does, and that others can use this film as a springboard for their careers. In the meantime, although it overdoes the pudding somewhat, it may keep haunted house fans entertained.
Reviewed on: 24 Feb. 2022