By LIABA NISAR
Starring David Lenik, Tessa Wood and Barrington De La Roche
Written, Directed and Produced by Charlie Steeds
Dark Temple Motion Picture
Any of us currently quarantining with family members can understand that our flesh and blood often end up being the people who rile us up without even trying. Charlie Steeds (Escape from Cannibal Farm and Death Ranch) brings us a whole other realm of awkward family dynamics in the independent British horror, AN ENGLISH HAUNTING. The film, set in the 1960s, follows a young man and his mother, who move into a manor in order to care for his ailing grandfather. Steeds not only manages to convey a feeling of utmost eeriness with every lingering shot, he often makes it seem like the house itself is alive, and hiding something dreadful within its faded wallpaper and antique furniture.
Blake Cunningham and his alcoholic mother, Margot, are led through the manor house, and informed that the previous nurse, who had been taking care of Aubrey (Margot’s sick father) left suddenly, as she felt uncomfortable in his presence. From the very beginning, Margot’s biting comments and seeming disdain for her father’s health suggest their relationship is based on anything but warmth and fuzziness. In contrast, Blake seems unsettled, but resigned to their task; he spends much of the first part of the movie chiding his mother and playing violin, with a stern yet unassuming quality about him.
From the get-go, we are thrown into the bleak atmosphere of the house as we follow Blake through his first night, when things immediately seem to go awry. He narrowly escapes being trapped in a room with his grandfather (who, unseen by Blake, mechanically rises into a seating position in his bed), and begins spotting terrifying figures in the house, within empty rooms and the front yard. What’s more, he finds his violin ripped apart and tossed in the greenhouse like trash. And the family side of things doesn’t bare much better; as if a possibly-possessed grandfather isn’t worrisome enough, Blake’s dad drops by and argues with Margot about his future, insisting he needs to make his own choices and get his head out of those darned books, damnit!
When Aubrey’s condition seems to worsen (with him jumping out at Blake in a frenzy) and Margot beginning to experience visions of her own, the two zero in on their quest to figure out what exactly is up with Aubrey’s and his illness, exploring the world of paganism, witchcraft, and demonic possession that Aubrey might have dangerously toyed with. However, we never lose sight of the fact that, at the end of the day, Blake is just as overwhelmed and confused as we are. And Margot, although never quite happy unless she’s a few glasses in, is also trying her best to be there for him as a mother, as well as deal with her own childhood traumas resurfacing. At the middle of the haunting is a broken family who care about each other, despite their many flaws. There is that constant feeling of entrapment that only comes with the stress of familial love. It is the realism of this dynamic that makes the film’s quiet moments filled with history and underlying emotion.
The film masterfully plays with the dreariness of the atmosphere itself, and few details go forgotten; a mysterious toy train remains an unsettling prop, and every background action offers a stomach-dropping blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of utter terror. The lack of point-of-view shots gives the audience a sick feeling of voyeurism; it’s almost as if the house itself is watching the main characters, and by viewing the film, we are complacent, as we are its eyes. Each moment in the house is bleak and tense, and every turn suggesting a newly terrifying sight. This couples with Blake’s worsening nightmares, which provide some of the film’s most unsettling imagery, of lone rocking chairs, swinging doors, and Aubrey’s lucid hysterics.
Within the final half of the film, you will be on the edge of your seat with anticipation and dread, as the haunting builds to a sweeping crescendo. With terrifying imagery and a swelling score, AN ENGLISH HAUNTING perfectly encapsulates the terror of a house that seems alive and quietly watching, undercutting physical spirits with the ghosts we seem to inherit from those who came before us—and who we inevitably pass on to anyone who comes after.
Look for AN ENGLISH HAUNTING on Prime and YouTube/Google Play.