BLACKWOOD

4 out of 10

Release Date: 1st August 2014

Director: Adam Wimpenny

Cast: Ed Stoppard, Sophia Myles, Russell Tovey, Paul Kaye, Isaac Andrews, Joanna Vanderham and Greg Wise

Writer: JS Hill

Trailer: BLACKWOOD

MV5BMjI1NDM5Mjk1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTU2MDUxMjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Famous TV historian Ben Marshall (ED STOPPARD – PAPADOPOULOS AND SONS) has relocated his family to the titular countryside pile after a violent nervous breakdown. Now in recovery and with a new job at a local university as a lecturer he begins to suffer from vivid hallucinations at his new house. Are his pills too strong, or are ghosts trying to contact him? Could it be the that spooky gamekeeper (RUSSELL TOVEY – PRIDE), the former marine turned priest (PAUL KAYE – IT’S ALL GONE PETE TONG) and his best friend from the past (GREG WISE – EFFIE GRAY) are keeping secrets from him.

With a larger budget and a better calibre of actor present than in most britpics it would be reasonable to expect a degree of quality from Blackwood. Whilst it has more ideas than the redundant THE WOMAN IN BLACK sequel (another recent haunted house film) it still lacks the crucial scares. After building up the creepy atmosphere at the beginning the makers seem to forget to maintain the tension. A ghost story turns into a sleuth/amateur detective story before trying something ‘new’ but stupid. Blackwood seems to exist for it’s sleight of hand in the plot and sadly the proceedings don’t earn the right to try something new. The resolution as well as the journey are disappointing as scene after scene runs out of steam. Better films and TV shows are funnelled in like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage, and weirdly enough Midsomer Murders. The hero is insufferable, unsympathetic and cruel, I just wanted him to die most of the way through and that’s another one of the film’s problems. Most of the other characters are ciphers with the wife (SOPHIA MYLES – TRANSFORMERS 4) and son (ISAAC ANDREWS) stock types. Kaye and Tovey belong in Scooby Doo.

Blackwood gains a higher rating than normal because it looks like a real film. Somebody’s spent a lot of money on finding the perfect location, the production values, a good score and ace cinematography. It’s a shame it’s got such nice window dressing because the actual shop is empty.

4 out of 10 – Clunky haunted house film with a ludicrous twist in the tale. Disappointing and flat.

Another review below by Matt Usher!

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?

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One thought on “BLACKWOOD

  1. BLACKWOOD – review by Matt Usher

    Oh the tricks of fate, time and our own personal demons! BLACKWOOD is a film about a haunted man who thinks he’s in a haunted house, and who is brought low by a delusion he can do nothing about. That makes it sound pretty good, and a lot of BLACKWOOD is pretty good, but only on the outside. It looks good, it sounds good, there’s some decent acting, but at heart the story and the central character are lacking.

    Ed Stoppard plays a successful academic and TV presenter who’s had a nervous breakdown (why he’s a TV historian is beyond me – it adds nothing to the film apart from a bit where his face is paused on TV though there’s no reason for his TV to be paused on his face anyway). Now that he’s feeling a bit better he thinks that the best thing to do is to uproot his family and move into a massive, empty, scary mansion of doom, gloom and despair whilst teaching at what is effectively the local polytechnic. Unsurprisingly he soon starts to question his sanity when he keeps seeing his son wandering around with a big knife and a scary mask, except it’s not his son, and he keeps being woken up in the middle of the night by a grandfather clock which doesn’t work. What with things going bump in the night (well, an orchestra really), bloody handprints on windowpanes, and scary things under the bed, our hero has quite a lot to contend with. This being a film he doesn’t talk to his wife (the moral of this film: communication is key!) but turns detective and soon jumps to a conclusion about the local village idiot (Russell Tovey not on good form) and the local weirdo priest (we know he’s a weirdo ‘cos he’s got long hair and a long beard). Meanwhile his devoted wife Sophia Myles stands by winsomely making jam and getting raped.

    The big problem with BLACKWOOD isn’t the supremely obvious twist (which, although so obvious that you’ll get it in about twenty minutes then forget that you’ve got it, does at least pull together satisfactorily), nor is it the strange way that old friend Greg Wise seems to turn up all the time at inconvenient moments. Nor is it the red herring which takes up such a significant portion of the running time. No, the problem is Stoppard’s character. Rarely has there been such an unsympathetic hero. (To some extent that’s deliberate, but it’s also a mistake.) If the film had wanted to make more of his mental imbalance that would have been interesting, but it almost feels as if his nervous breakdown was added afterwards to try to increase our sympathy for a character who runs around throwing things at his young son (Isaac Andrews – easily the best actor in the film) and yelling at him like he (the son) is the devil’s spawn. Stoppard himself is unable to soften the character, and plays him simply as a grumpy teacher, rather than a tortured and doomed hero. You really do wonder why nice Sophia Myles didn’t run off with dashing Greg Wise years ago (yes, Wise plays a dashing but deluded rake).

    After a promising start the film sags badly when it all turns Murder She Wrote (with THE SHINING spooned in for good measure). There’s a moment where Stoppard hears some important incriminating evidence by putting his ear to a crack in a wall. Not only is this one of several dumb bits which let the film down (cf. Ed Stoppard in burglar outfit, Ed Stoppard in anorak, Ed Stoppard creeping out of a house he shouldn’t be in whilst someone is looking the other way) but the incriminating evidence isn’t incriminating nor is it explained away. And the film makes great play of the family moving miles away from anywhere to start again – new job, new house etc, with Greg Wise as best friend with a dark secret turning up to visit. And then it seems that Wise lives in the area anyway. (Unless the back-story is that Wise lives and teaches in the area and suggests that Stoppard takes up a vacancy at the university Wise teaches at – that would make sense but that’s never made clear.)

    The story is a good old-fashion things-that-go-bump-in-the-night ghost story. Alas, ghost stories should generally be really short and not feature films, and should ideally avoid logical (though still supernatural) explanations. Even at 85 minutes BLACKWOOD outstays its welcome, and the explanation, which is meticulously delivered, is unnecessary as most viewers will have worked it out long before half time. There are some good moments, some nice fake scares, and some real ones, and it’s made extremely well. The look of the film reminds me of those Ruth Rendell / Barbara Vine psychological thrillers they used to do on TV – very expensive looking, a nice dichotomy of modern and ancient settings, respected character actors dissolving into madness and jealousy against a pleasant rural backdrop. If this had been, say, a 60 minute TV production, with significantly less times spent on the big red herring and a greater degree of ambiguity about what it was actually about, then it would have been really very good. But that’s a lot of ifs.

    I liked the opening sections and the general set-up, which had some genuinely creepy moments. And I liked the way the denouement unwound, but only in the way one admires a decent piece of craftsmanship. You end up watching it almost with a checklist in your mind, ensuring that all the anomalies and mysteries are cleared up. The big mystery, namely how the disaster might have been averted goes unmentioned and unexplored. It’s a nice puzzle movie, but it might have been so much more.

    A note to the editor of Britpic – I don’t think what you think was the film’s new idea was new by the way. But mysteriously I can’t off-hand think of a precedent…

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