Having recovered from an emotional breakdown, college professor Ben Marshall relocates to the countryside with his wife and young son, hoping for a fresh start. He has a teaching job lined up and a new home to move into; things finally look to be going Ben’s way. Until, that is, he starts to feel that something isn’t quite right in the house. Finding himself plagued by spectral visions, Ben becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth behind a local mystery that appears to be putting the lives of his family in danger.
When you move into a large empty manor in the middle of the countryside, with a signpost saying Blackwood, you should know that there’s probably going to be some unsettling moments. Unless they bought the house blind, they apparently hadn’t noticed before the four locks on one bedroom door, an eerie figure lurking in a window in a painting of the house on the wall, the clocks not working but still chiming loudly at random and a constant low mist. Then there’s the dishevelled groundskeeper in the woods cooking a rabbit under a full moon. It’s the classic set-up of a horror film. They should’ve seen the signs really. Or at least the signpost.
Ben, a TV historian, has taken up a lecturing role at a countryside university after evidently having a breakdown that nearly cost him his marriage. He takes his wife Rachel (Sophia Miles) and young son Harry to start afresh in this aforementioned godforsaken mansion. However, strange things start happening; children in masks appear holding knives, blood-covered arms grab onto the bedside table, there’s house creaks and groans and bumps in the night. And Ben – remember because he might be having another breakdown – starts to investigate why these things are happening.
The story is good and improves as the film progresses but the acting in the key roles is stilted. The talented Russell Tovey aside, the lines come across as being read directly from the script and it’s a style more akin to daytime TV then a good film. Ed Stoppard and Sophia Miles don’t have any chemistry and no amount of happy sounding music and aptly-timed zooms can make up for that. They’re not helped by a script riddled with misplaced phraseology; words like ‘scamp’, ‘ratbag’ and ‘champ’ that don’t sit right in a modern British horror.
There are some clever moments. A pitch-black basement scene is lit intermittently by an iPhone screen until it times out every ten seconds. Like Doctor Who’s weeping angels with a technological twist. It’s a nice touch but unfortunate that the film’s release comes after the IOS7 update that comes with a torch (probably to solve the common problem of being scared in a mansion basement with your iPhone), immediately dating a well-thought through modern horror set-piece. But you can just pretend he’s really slow at updating his phone.
The plot comes together quite well in the end but, by this point, it has already been undermined by wooden acting and a shaky script which changes a decent British horror into a so-so one.