Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. United Kingdom, 2011. StudioCanal, BBC Films, Creative Scotland, Lipsync Productions, Origin Pictures, Eagle Pictures. Screenplay by Stephen Volk, Nick Murphy. Cinematography by Eduard Grau. Produced by Sarah Curtis, Julia Stannard, David M. Thompson. Music by Daniel Pemberton. Production Design by Jon Henson. Costume Design by Caroline Harris. Film Editing by Victoria Boydell. Toronto International Film Festival 2011.
With so many dead and so many mourning after the end of the Great War, Europe sees a rising interest in the occult thanks to people’s desire to communicate with their lost loved ones. Rebecca Hall plays a woman who has lost her own soldier but, instead of indulging in the silliness of seances and crystal balls, does humanity the service of debunking the many charlatans who take people’s money and give them false comforts. Dominic West, inspired by the notoriety of her best-selling book on the subject, shows up on her doorstep and provides her with an assignment she can’t resist: the school he teaches at, a converted estate in the English countryside, has a population of boys who have seen a ghostly apparition that has resulted in the death of one of their students, and he needs her to come and verify the story. Hall shows up with her practical cynicism and all the fun steampunk gear that this kind of movie fetishizes, old-timey cameras and bells on ropes, but soon begins to see things that even she can’t explain with her usual skill and confidence. A fun first half that indulges in the gorgeous production design and appealing characterizations (Imelda Staunton a standout as the school’s nanny) soon gives way to ponderous indulgence of Hall’s mental state as the things she is witnessing have connections to a personal history she has been suppressing her whole life. Stylishly directed by Nick Murphy, it’s a disappointment just how preposterous the story gets by its conclusion, a film that proves the cinema to be allergic to skepticism (much like Red Lights released a year later) but whose supernatural elements are not its least acceptable element.