Is it a gothic ghost story or a psychological thriller where people are convinced they’re living with ghosts? After the sublime Room, Lenny Abrahamson’s last movie, you’ll be so bored waiting for the answer you won’t care in the least.
It seems Abrahamson wanted to make a quiet, polite, stiff-upper-lipped gothic thriller that relied on plot rather than scares and characters rather than blood or the supernatural. The notion above – that the characters can’t decide if it’s supernatural or someone’s just crazy – is only a supposition. Nothing is ever clear or engaging enough to lay out whether that’s the point of the story.
At every stage, after weaving grinding quagmires of mood, exposition and setup that feel like work rather than entertainment, it seems to get to a narrative crest where there’s going to be some reveal or development, and the movie instead swerves in a completely different direction and denies you even that small satisfaction.
Even in the climax when you think there’s going to be some grand twist that makes the 90 minutes you’ve just sat through worth it, Abrahamson decides (he seems too good a director to have done so by accident) to avoid that too, giving you snippets of clues that don’t go any closer to solving the mystery and certainly don’t reach any kind of palpable emotional crescendo.
The genre-spanning Domhnall Gleeson is Faraday, a young, no-nonsense country doctor who’s called to a nearby mansion where his mother used to work as a housemaid. The mansion and its inhabitants – mother Mrs Ayres (Charlotte Rampling), possibly-insane son Roderick (Will Poulter) who was injured in the First World War and the daughter barely holding things together, Caroline (Ruth Wilson) – are in decline.
Faraday dutifully attends to the family and their conviction there’s a ghost within the walls, but he’s a man of science and reason and in classic ghost story tradition, it seems to be setting up a tale where the skeptic will become convinced in the fantastical.
Beyond that, youll grasp at straws trying to remember not only the story but any of the scenes it’s comprised of before too long. There’s a trailer worthy moment where a series of bells connected to other rooms start to ring when all the inhabitants of the house are accounted for (so who’s ringing them? A spirit?), but it not only happens merely once, it sets up a uniquely creepy haunted house set piece and then goes nowhere.
The same goes for the rest of the film. It’s dour, colourless, toothless and absolutley nothing worth remembering goes on throughout, up to and including the climax. When it had the chance to spin up, add to or resolve various strands of the tale, it seems not to have the courage of its convictions to even do that.