Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir Joe Marcantonio
scr Joe Marcantonio, Jason McColgan
prd Dominic Norris, Jack Lowden
with Tamara Lawrance, Fiona Shaw, Jack Lowden, Edward Holcroft, Chloe Pirrie, Anton Lesser, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Michael Nardone, Toyah Frantzen, Nyree Yergainharsian, Natalia Kostrzewa, Terry Byrne
release US 6.Nov.20
20/UK 1h41

shaw lowden pirrie

Is it streaming?

pirrie, shaw, lawrance and lowden
There's a troubling darkness at the heart of this British drama, setting up the audience for some Get Out-style freak-outs. Aside from obvious symbolism (an ominous raven) and a repetitive, overlong running time, the film takes an original approach, offering chilling observations on class, race and mental health issues. And an ace cast makes the most of each quietly intense scene as the tension escalates to almost unbearable levels.
As usual, Charlotte (Lawrance) is uneasy about visiting the old-money family of her boyfriend Ben (Holcroft). When they announce their move to Australia, his controlling mother Margaret (Shaw) and brother Thomas (Lowden) don't take well at all. Then just as Charlotte finds that she's pregnant, Ben is killed in a freak accident. Margaret and Thomas take her in and start making all her decisions for her. And as the months pass, Charlotte feels increasingly trapped in the house. So begins to suspect the worst. She definitely stops thinking her fear is stoked by her hormones.
Director Marcantonio quickly isolates Charlotte's nervous disposition, evoking a queasy sense of horror long before anything nasty happens. The family manor is a sprawling estate that has seen better days, with peeling wallpaper and no furniture newer than about 1975. So Thomas' enthusiastic decision to redecorate a room as a nursery has a tinge of irony to it. Conversations between Charlotte, Margaret and Thomas are gentle and intimate, but each time they tell her she isn't well, her inexplicable sense of peril grows.

Lawrance makes Charlotte hugely sympathetic, a young woman who feels things strongly and is bewildered to realise her life is no longer her own. It's riveting to watch her dig deep to find the strength to resist. Opposite her, Shaw plays Margaret as an immovable force, cleverly making even the most sinister idea seem perfectly reasonable. Lowden is also terrific, friendly and innocuous, offering some wonderfully hapless laughs, as well as questions about whether his decency is genuine. And as always, Pirrie is earthy and real as Charlotte's seemingly only friend.

The way the film is written, directed and played skilfully keeps the audience off-balance, questioning whether Charlotte's fear is all in her mind, even amid continual hints that something is seriously wrong in this creaking house. Every question she has is met with a rational explanation, and yet she can't help but want to get out of here. Even with the low-key filmmaking and slightly awkward pacing, the steadily unnerving atmosphere and deeper themes have visceral power.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 3.Nov.20

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