(A.k.a. HOUSE OF SHADOWS)
A large detached estate in the country, surrounded by acres of its own land. Richmond Manor looks like an idyllic place to live.
The Johnsons have just moved in there and still settling in, but their daughter Sarah (Morgan Faith Keith) doesn't like her bedroom. She's convinced a "bad man" lurks in the built-in closet. Her mother Laura (Lisa Cameron) tries her best to offer reassurance at bedtime but even she finds the room a little creepy. Perhaps it'll look better once it's been decorated, she tells herself.
The man of the household, Mike (Cameron Mowat), is less sympathetic. He's overworked, skint from buying the house, and shattered from the sleepless nights Sarah's night terrors are giving him.
However, he's about to get a rude awakening one morning as he sits scowling at the breakfast table. Sarah is not herself today - which probably has something to do with the unseen force that dragged her screaming into the closet in the dead of night...
The action then fast-forwards two years, bringing us to the present day. Jack (Michael Koltes) is a sceptic who makes his living from debunking fraudulent claims of hauntings. Jonathan (Paul Flannery), meanwhile, is a psychic keen to prey on people's beliefs in the spiritual world. Both men are summoned to Richmond Manor via mysterious business cards sent to their respective homes.
Upon arrival, Jack is alarmed to see Jonathan there. Both men are strangers to one another, but it's quickly evident that their beliefs are starkly contrasting. Wondering why they've been called to the estate, their bickering is cut short by the presence of an enigmatic man (Steve Weston) who claims to have requested their company on behalf of his anonymous "client".
We learn through the man that Richmond Manor has a dark history. Apparently anyone who's lived there - including its last occupants, the Johnsons - has died within three days. The deaths have always been violent (shootings, stabbings, hangings) and unexplained. Such a history has led to locals claiming the place is haunted. The man tells a bewildered Jack and Jonathan that his client is prepared to pay each of them $50,000 if they stay there for three nights and prove that the place isn't playing host to malevolent forces. Described as a "publicity stunt" to help his client sell the place on, the man goes on to stipulate certain terms of the stay: Jack and Jonathan must hand over their car keys and mobile 'phones for the duration of their stay, and they will be locked in the house.
And if they do find evidence of a haunting? They're required to keep quiet about that and insist the house is spookie-free. The man explains that they are both noted in their fields of work and they are simply required to be seen to spend three nights in the house and then give it the all-clear for the benefit of superstitious locals.
Jonathan is quick to agree to the gig. Jack is more reticent, but a mixture of genuine intrigue and a need for cash prompt him to eventually take the job on too.
And so, the mysterious man leaves Jack and Jonathan to get acquainted with the estate, and with each other. They're quickly at loggerheads, cynical Jack determined to use his high-tech equipment to disprove any notion of ghosts, while the more flamboyant Jonathan itching to get drunk and use his self-proclaimed powers to speak with the dead. "This is going to be a looong three days" Jonathan quips.
It is. But not just because he's stuck indoors with an unfriendly housemate. Rather, the strange occurrences that are about to come their way...
Following a gory prologue which could easily play as its own short film, GHOSTS OF DARKNESS settles into a quiet approach, merging an often witty script with subtler Gothic-tinged chills. Writer-director David Ryan Keith takes time to set the scenario, flesh out his characters and build a certain sense of ambiguity which works despite his audience already knowing that something evil does lurk within the shadows.
Crisply shot on HD cameras and benefitting from some lovely Scottish location photography, GHOSTS OF DARKNESS is often gorgeous to behold. Niall Mathewson's ambient score aids the visuals ably, while the use of stately homes Ardgour House and Haddo House for the foreboding Richmond Manor makes for an excellent atmosphere-inducing decision.
Performances are likeable across the board, with Flannery coming across best with his sardonic turn as the showman who gradually realises he's involved in something way beyond his understanding. Weston imposes as the sinister stranger too; Koltes convinces as the rational one.
Pacing is keenly considered, events escalating at a natural tempo, Keith holding back on overt shock tactics until the final act. There are twists in the plot too, involving a nice reveal explaining why these two men in particular have been chosen for this task.
And how many modern horror flicks can you name that contain a track by British prog rockers Pallas over their closing titles?!
GHOSTS OF DARKNESS is available digitally now as a VOD title, courtesy of Uncork'd Entertainment. We were given access to an online screener link for review purposes.
The film looks very healthy in a 16x9 presentation boasting sharp definition and clean, compression-free HD imagery. Colours and flesh tones are natural; blacks are solid throughout.
Similarly, the English 2.0 soundtrack on offer was a capable affair from start to finish.
I'll admit it, the generic title and familiar synopsis didn't have me looking forward to this one. But it's actually very well put together, handsomely mounted and effective in its incremental approach to its scares.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Uncork'd Entertainment|