Movie review: The School

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Another directorial debut from Australia plays a part of our 31 days of horror.
This time, the guy behind the camera is Storm Ashwood (great name by the way) who leads his vision and marks another chapter in the growing genre from the land down under.
Ashwood’s vision takes the audience on a journey into a Lord of the Flies type of underworld where the kids have formed a tribe within a school setting and try to defend themselves against the various entities that reside within the rotten and dank domain.

Our guide on this journey through the land that strides between the living and the dead is Doctor Amy Wintercraig, who is so consumed with her profession looking after people in hospital that she neglected to attend to her own family.
When tragedy strikes, her son slips into a coma following a drowning accident leading Amy to become consumed with grief and detached from the ‘real world’.
In an attempt to take her own life she winds up in the School of the damned where she attempts to find her son again and bring him back home.

The story is a compelling one with Amy coming to terms with potentially losing her son and is played with remarkable strength by Megan Drury.
It was also rewarding to see Nicholas Hope (Ash vs Evil Dead, Event Zero, Picnic at Hanging Rock TV series) albeit briefly as voice of reason, Dr Wang.
The fact that most of the cast are kids and that they are all incredibly believable in their roles is a testament to Ashwood’s direction and that he isn’t afraid to tackle one of film productions more troubling areas.

Ashwood certainly has a visual style in his direction that seemingly feels part Hellraiser, part Labyrinth, and a trickle of 80s to he raw and untapped edges that ground this movie and give it an unexpected appeal that belies it’s low budget. It’s this vision that is the glue to the movie where every surface seems to leak or ooze through the ceilings, walls, and floor.
All we see is a dark analogy and constant reminder of why Amy has found her way there anyway.

If there is one niggle to be had, it’s in the audio. The choice of production music and sound effects feel low budget and breaks you out of the narrative on occasion as it smacks of made-for-tv movies of the late 70s and early 80s (and not in a good way).
It’s a shame as the movie has some interesting concepts and Ashwood is clearly a storyteller with a creative eye.

The Diagnosis:

It feels a little harsh to be so downbeat on an otherwise well crafted movie from a storyteller with a unique vision but the audio is such a killer for me and pulls you back to the surface, ripping you away from the dark and delightful playground that Ashwood has created.

  • Saul Muerte

 

Movie review: Revenge

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Revenge is one of those rare films that not only promises, but also delivers.

It could easily be pigeonholed as a rape revenge horror film, but becomes so much more than that, steering away from the sexualisation to focus on the heart-pounding, brutal, and desperate fight for survival.

And boy is it a fight.

Revenge demands your attention and forces you to endure each scene to the bitter end, so it’s little wonder that it has been causing such a stir in the festival circuits.

When American socialite Jen spends a weekend away with her lover Richard before he embarks on a hunting trip with his friends, she gets more than she bargained for, when the whole affair turns incredibly ugly.

When one of the men, Stan forces himself on Jen while Richard is away, things go from bad to worse as Richard, who is unwilling for any of this to come to light, tries to pay his way out. When Jen refuses, he resorts to the only way he knows how… violence, and tries to end it all by pushing Jen off a cliff face.

Against all odds, Jen survives and every instinct in her being pushes her to claw her way out of the barren wastelands and claim back her dignity.

Some people may be quick to label this film as a feminist piece, which it is, but more than that, French director Coralie Fargeat produces a compelling narrative that is both stylish and gritty and realistic portrayal of the lengths that Jen has to go through a will to live. It’s a directorial feature that projects Fargeat immediately into the spotlight as she showcases how to make what essentially is a subject that can be all to hard to bear, and yet with heart and strong conviction we too are willing Jen to persist to the end behind every grimace and painful endeavour she must make to get there.

The acting is superb from a relatively small cast, with Matilda Lutz (Jen) more than capable of holding her own as the lone female opposite the trio of Kevin Janssens (Richard), Vincent Colombe (Stan), and Guillaume Bouchede (Dmitri).

By the films conclusion, all the characters must face up to their choices by pouring out their guts in order to bare all. There is no hiding when you are in the middle of the desert. You have no choice but fight in a barren and desolate landscape, and Revenge does exactly that.

 

The Diagnosis:

Beautifully shot by cinematographer, Robrecht Heyvaert, with an amazing score by Robin Coudert that compliments the narrative and keeps driving up the tension, Revenge offers some great performances that push their acting to the very limits. Director Coralie Fargeat manages to harness all these elements together whilst providing a stunning movie that elevates itself above the quagmire of sensationalism by using smart and intense drama at its core.

A must watch movie.

 

– Saul Muerte

 

 

 

 

Movie review: Rabbit

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Luke Shanahan’s directorial feature debut, Rabbit is a stellar example of what Australians do well, Dark and gritty drama.

The difference though is that Rabbit is not just grit for grit’s sake, but a compelling and captivating drama that lures you in and ensnares you to the bitter end.

The concept is a simple one, Maude Ashton wakes from a vivid dream that compels her to return home and find her missing twin sister.

The journey she takes to find her though is a far from simple one as Maude must listen to her instincts and psychic intuition through a twisted labyrinth of trauma and despair.

Shanahan has a gift for tapping into the psychological aspects of the human mind and weaving together an intriguing narrative that in lesser hands could lead you up the garden path with no purpose or direction laid down. Shanahan’s screenplay takes you by the hand and directs you with purpose.

I also want to applaud the acting accolades of the two women in this film; the lead Adelaide Clemens who plays Maude and her twin shows great depth in her character, and Veele Baetens as Nerida who is harbouring a troubled past that she displays with great restrain beneath the surface. Both their performances were incredibly rewarding to watch and keeps you engaged throughout the movie.

The Diagnosis:

Rabbit is a quality psychological drama that keeps you entranced and could very well prove to be the sleeper hit of the year.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Suspiria (2018)

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At the time of writing this article Halloween has made over $106 million dollars in Box Office sales and taken the second-best ever opening weekend of October and has become the best-ever film starring a lead actress over 55 years old.
It’s director David Gordon Green must be riding an all-time high at the moment, which is interesting as he was the original choice to direct the Suspiria remake which would have starred Isabelle Huppert, but due to a confliction of interests this vision fell through.
One can only wonder how his operatic nod to Dario Argento’s classic would have looked like. Instead Italian director Luca Guadagnino, who turned heads last year with his film Call Me By Your Name, picked up the mantle and collaborated once more with actress Tilda Swinton with his homage.

Now, a lot of people would have balked at the very idea of someone attempting to recreate a much-loved horror film, especially as Suspiria was so unique in style and content.
And yet, it’s because of this that you could argue that there is room to revisit the storyline and create something different for a new generation.
And with the trailer’s release earlier in the year, you could tell that Guadagnino was aiming to do jus that and develop a movie with the look and feel of it’s time and setting, 1977, Berlin.

It’s a fascinating time in German history as it was going through a huge discord and anarchy through political unrest, driving far-left militant organization, Red Army Faction (RAF) also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group to drastic measure involving bombing, kidnapping, and assassinations.
The climate was ripe for a dark evil to erupt, and in this instance it resides with a coven of witches in The Markos Dance Company, which too was going through a split faction between Helena Markos, the self-proclaimed Mother of Sighs and the company director, Madame Blanc, (both played by Swinton).

The story evolves through a series of Acts that opens with an unhinged Patricia Hingle (Chloe Grace Moretz) discloses to her psychiatrist Jozef Klemperer (another Swinton performance as the elderly Gent, a performance that sometimes amazes in just how powerful an actress she is, but on occasion distracts through the times that her character slips a little) about the secret sect.
Hingle quickly disappears from the scene, allegedly involved with the RAF movement. This opens the door for when our story truly begins, when American, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives at the dance company and quickly rises as Blanc’s protégé.

All the while, the dancers are unaware of what truly lurks behind the mirrored walls and beneath the dance floor and Professor Klemperer continues on his quest to find the missing Hingle (an effort that masks his own failings in never finding his wife during the outbreak of the second world war).

There are so many layers to this film that it’s easy to get lost in the narrative and fall under the spell that is cast with powerful performances from all the actors driving you deeper into the world as you spiral into the hypnosis.
This is strengthened further by the musical score supplied Thom Yorke, something of a masterpiece in his delivery and trance-like songs that perfectly accompany the atmosphere and direction of the movie.

Equally effective are the dance pieces that closely pull from the Martha Graham technique, using a psychoanalytical viewpoint on the medium depicting human struggles through every contorted and distorted action from the performer.
It’s a perfect accompaniment to the films narrative and proves a central tool to evoke the darkness beyond the known world.

American writer David Kajganich who wrote the screenplay for Suspiria openly admits that he is not a fan of horror movies and prefers to keep the drama grounded in reality. It’s a curious choice to take for a horror film, but one that speaks volumes to the final product on show.
There are some great moments in the movie that drive the drama forward in a fairly slow pace towards a fevered conclusion.
One moment that I found compelling was when the coven congregates around the dining table, providing small talk, but in the same instance offer a small window into their world and the synergy between them all.

The problem is the choice taken pulls as far from a horror as you could get with the exception of an absolutely phenomenal sequence when one of the dancers, Olga has her body twisted and contorted in a gruesome fashion that is so relentless on the screen, that you can’t help but squirm in your seat.
The timing of this delivery is hopeful too and leads you on a hopeful journey that the movie is going to go dark and harrowing, but it never comes.
By the time the finale arises, the left-of-centre change in direction is a little jarring and feels remiss and leaves any horror fan wanting.

 

The Diagnosis:

It’s a slow-burn movie that grinds its way to a stumbled conclusion.
The drama is gritty and realistic with some stunning performances and dramatic dance sequences that hook you in, but rather than set you ablaze in a fury of emotion, it peeters out to a mere whimper.

 

– Saul Muerte

 

 

 

 

 

Movie review: Gonjam: Haunted Asylum

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Ask any of my fellow Surgeons my thoughts on found footage films and they’ll be quick to tell you of my distain towards this sub-genre. I’m quick to ascend into either boredom of contempt and often find the characters grate or get under my skin and not in a good way.

There have been a few exceptions, the granddaddy of them all, Cannibal Holocaust paved the way before The Blair Witch Project opened the door for the connected generation and was incredibly well marketed for its time. I even have a fondness towards Spanish film (REC) when that was released, as it was able to ground the style of movie and lure you in with the lead character before all hell was unleashed.

Anything else and I struggle to stay tuned-in to the horrors that I being played out in a reality environment.

So it’s an odd thing to find myself lured in by a Korean film called Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum that uses the same style and choice in its direction.

The film focuses on a known haunted location in Japan, Gonjam an old asylum that supposedly houses spirits and the fact that it is an actual place and is as one of the characters states one of the 7 most creepiest locations in the world as listed by CNN, which just cements the reality of it further and allows the viewer to settle into the believable factor.

Following a trio who make up the team from YouTube channel “Horror Times” and six volunteers, they make their way to Gonjam to film a live recording from within the asylum to see if they can capture any of the supposed paranormal activity and reach the record of 1million viewers for their channel.

The last part of the equation is high on the agenda for the channels owner, Ha-Joon, who will stop at nothing to reach his goal, including using his team to manipulate proceedings to draw reactions from the volunteers.

But by tempting the devil, have they got more than they bargained for? Will they awaken something lurking deep within the walls? And what or whom resides in room 402?

 

The Diagnosis:

I still believe that Gonjam falls prey to the usual found footage trappings, some of the characters do jar a little on occasion and borrows heavily from the previous movies from that genre.

And one particular characteristic of the possession was just fucking annoying. Having said that, it does manage to keep you gripped to the screen and tantalises the senses enough to rise above the bog-standard tropes with some impressive shots in places, using state of the art technology.

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: Ghost Stories

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I have to admit that I had a twinge of excitement at the prospect of watching Ghost Stories, purely based on the fact that it was co-written and co-directed by Jeremy Dyson; a man most known as the silent (or should I say less prominent) member of The League of Gentleman comedy team. Whilst this movie is far from the comedy field that is usually associated with Dyson, my confidence in his writing ability had me dead-set eager to see what he would come up with in the horror genre.

Teaming up with his writing and directing partner, Andy Nyman, (who also stars in the movie as paranormal skeptic Professor Goodman) the duo adapt their successful play for the cinema, focusing on three stories or tales if you will bent towards the unknown.

Each tale leads Goodman into the dark recesses of the unexplained and into a world that challenges his own psyche.

It starts with a night watchman played by another comedy veteran Paul Whitehouse (The Fast Show) who claims to have seen a spirit at the warehouse in which he worked.
Goodman then visits a boy (Simon Rifkin) who happens to be obsessed with the cult. His claim is that he ran over the devil whilst driving in the woods.

The last tale comes from a highly successful businessman (Martin Freeman) who swears that his house was possessed by a poltergeist, and that he received a visitation from his wife the night before she gave birth to an inhuman child in hospital.

Goodman’s rabbit warren of illusions and devilry ultimately transcends into an untapped space that unravels before his eyes that force him to face up to his past and potential future.

 

The Diagnosis:

You can tell that both Nyman and Dyson have honed their craft and weave the various storylines together using their gifted talents to create a well-received narrative. Ghost Stories does rely on a few jump scares and can be a little predictable in places, but the end result is rewarding with some strong performances all round.

 

  • Saul Muerte

 

Movie review: Summer of ’84

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Summer of ‘84 is one of those movies that tries to tap into the whole 80s nostalgia thing. Think Stranger Things, The Burbs, and Stephen King all wrapped into a neat All-American thriller where four boys believe that one of their neighbours is a notorious serial killer.

The trouble is it strives so hard to emanate the decade and all its glory, (wicked soundtrack included) that it struggles to form a unique identity of its own. That is until the final 20 WTF!!! Minutes of the movie that shakes up your preconceptions and messes with your heard.
By this stage, you would have lost some of the audience, waiting for something to seperate Summer of ‘84 from the pack, and the other half of the audience barely hanging on.
This is a shame because the trailer teased and tantalised an epic feature, but if you can stick it out to the end, the pay off is definitely worth it.

The premise follows Davey Armstrong, the son of a journalist, who suspects neighbour Mackey a well-respected police officer to be the Cape May Slayer, who has murdered of 13 teenage boys in the county area.

At first his friends, Woody, Curtis, and Eats, all find Davey’s story too far-fetched. That is until Davey claims to have seen the latest missing kid at Mackey’s House. Cue espionage style tactics from the kids as they try every spy trick in the book to uncover the truth from tracking his every move, going through his trash and finally breaking and entering.
Is Mackey the murderer, (I mean, there is something a little off about his mannerisms, expertly played by Mad Men’s Rich Sommer) or is it the wild imaginations of a young mind?

The kids are all likeable enough to keep you wondering and caring when they fall into precarious situations, with plenty of decent back story to most of them.
There’s even room for a love interest in old friend and crush, Nikki, who also seems a little unhinged and leaves you wondering if this is a result of her parents separating or is there something darker going on underneath her sweet demeanour.

Directors Simard, Whissell, and Whissell certainly tick all the boxes and it’s only when we are feeling secure that they decide to whip the carpet of safety from under our feet and throw a massive curveball into the midst.

From a political point of view, when Reagan was in power, it’s as if the creatives wanted to make a sweeping statement that American life would never be the same again and that ‘home life’ as we knew it would be totally broken apart and everything that we could rely upon would leave us questioning our faith in everything that our society is built upon.
There is no sanctuary. Not anymore.

The Diagnosis:

Summer of 84 nearly falls prey to standard thriller territory until it sucker punches you in the gut for the climax of the movie, leaving you feeling unnerved and a huge talking point.

 

  • Saul Muerte

 

Movie review: Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

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“Ermahgerd Gersberms!”
And that infamous meme was all I knew about R.L. Stine’s mega hit franchise.
As my 8-year-old son Ryder calls me…’I’m a Goosebumps noob.’

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That being said, both Ryder and I went to see the latest big screen install of the books/TV show franchise…and I have to say I’m a Goosebumps convert.

The plot see’s two nerdy teens Sonny and Sam finding an unfinished R.L. Stine novel and ventriloquist dummy (the irrepressible Slappy, from the previous movie – voiced by Jack Black) while collecting junk for their ’business’, Junk Bros (catchphrase “We grab your junk”).
Cue: Halloween hi-jinks as Slappy takes over the town on his quest for a family of his own.

For me the humour was balanced enough to be appreciated by both big kid and actual kid, and the scares weren’t that scary. I mean, I’m not expecting a movie to mess up my child for life. Incidentally I was of the generation that was shown “Apaches” (google it!) the horrific 1970’s safety film, at primary school when I was my sons age. But I would’ve preferred a couple more frights than the token saccharine monsters you see in every supermarket party aisle each Halloween. I would say though, that the balloon spider was my favourite and Slappy with his wise cracks certainly made a cheeky villain.

‘So Ryder, what did you think?’…as I hand over the keyboard to him.

I thought “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” was a really funny movie. Younger kids under 7 or 8-years-old will be scared, I was not scared because I’ve seen the first one and seen a lot of the TV series. My favourite part was the gummi bears because they were so, so, so funny.

I agree with Ryder, the gummi bears were indeed a highlight. But perhaps if some of the other creatures had been given equal attention they wouldn’t have been so superfluous thus less threatening.

The Diagnosis:

Look this was an entertaining enough movie, but to be honest I don’t think I’m alone here in expecting to see an actual complete, concise movie when I go to the cinema and not part 1,2 or 7 of an incomplete story, that’s what I have Netflix for. Because yes, it does lead directly into a promised sequel.

But anyway, take your kids this Halloween for a bit of spooky fun both you and they will enjoy.

– Myles and Ryder Davies

Movie review: Halloween (2018)

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It’s been a long time coming. Since 1978 fans of Michael Myers have endured the ups and downs of their favourite slasher as he carved his way through the residents of Haddonfield, but never has captured the hearts and imagination of John Carpenter’s original vision.

We’ve seen Myers omitted from the franchise only to be brought back to stalk his niece, then inflicted with an ancient curse, played the part of a reality TV series, and then reimagined by director Rob Zombie with conflicting results.
It seemed that Myers was dead and buried, but when ‘hotter than hot right now’, production team Blumhouse started to taut the idea of bring him back to the screens once more, a new-found interest began to surface once again.

There were certain things that began to fall into place, such as the return of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode (albeit with slight reservation as they had done this before), which was rewarded further with the approval of Carpenter himself, plus part of his agreement was that he would provide the score. Hell yeah!
It might be a small thing but with the casting of Nick Castle to the Shape back to Myers cemented things for their storyline, which would be set 40 years after the original events transpired. The catch, none of the other movies in the franchise would exist. The producers would be picking up the baton without the sequels to muddy the water.

The other slight snag is that director David Gordon Green and his writing collaborator Danny McBride, normally associated with comedy were attached to steer this new direction. The screenplay they presented had the approval of those around them, but could they pull off a horror slasher and one that comes with so much expectation?

As the pre-credits began to roll, you suddenly felt that they had got the tone just right, ranging from the familiar score charging up the emotions and the image of the pumpkin rebuilding itself with a giant metaphor for the franchise. Halloween is back and they’re going to make it as damn good as they can, whilst keeping in tone of the original movie.

As the film unfolds it soon becomes apparent that what Green and McBride are telling isn’t just a typical horror film, but one of the trauma and the suffering that one faces when they have gone through a massive ordeal such as the one Laurie Strode faced all those years ago. What does that do to the psyche? What would happen to someone like Laurie and how would she cope back once faced with the reality of her situation? The choice was to place her as a survivor of sorts who is still fighting her demons, as she has become a modern day doomsday prepper, although in her case, Laurie isn’t preparing for the end of the world, but her inevitable last encounter with Michael Myers.

Jamie Lee Curtis does an amazing job of portraying Laurie and the impact that her character has had on her family. I’m not sure if I can recall her ever showing such raw emotion on screen, but she is able to deliver a full range of vulnerability, compassion, strength, and empowerment and with it she harnesses the other characters with her to produce a well-accomplished, solid movie. Laurie Strode is now a symbol of the effect that trauma has on those who’ve lived it or experienced it. In one scene, Jamie Lee Curtis is so broken in her portrayal that you can see the pain etched across her face as her whole body folds in on itself. It truly is a wonderful performance and a fitting one as we move in a time of change and recognition of the suffering that women have had to endure over the years, forced to bury their emotions in a world that didn’t or refused to understand.

On Laurie’s journey of torment is her daughter, Karen, (who has had to bear the suffering of a childhood trapped in fear) and her Granddaughter, Allyson (a symbol of hope and understanding). Allyson almost represents the overall message here for the Halloween franchise. We have to bypass a whole generation in order to rebuild for the future. Our hands rest in the youth of tomorrow and if anyone is going to tap into that generation, it’s Blumhouse.

That’s no to say that Halloween doesn’t ignore the people that have had to tolerate each new chapter, if anything the movie wears it on its sleeve with plenty of nods and references along the way. It’s a fine line to tread, but Green manages to keep a perfect balance of old and new, whilst still offering something fresh and serving decent bouts of nostalgia to please all and sundry.

There are some stints of humour along the way though. It’s not all doom and gloom. Green is a comedy director first and foremost but he doesn’t saturate the film with light-hearted moments, instead he delivers when the beats serve it and it lifts the film all the more, especially with the scene in which Julian is being babysat for by Allyson’s friend, Vicky. It’s a great little exchange between the two of them that you know will just go sour as soon as Michael enters the scene.

As for our beloved psychopath, Michael, he hasn’t gone without his own set of changes. Having been incarcerated for 40 years, he too has bottled up his emotions, stifled from a system that refuses to let him indulge in his passion for killing. So when he does break free from prison bus transportation, he unleashes with such brutality that hasn’t been present in the franchise before. This suppressed Michael will stop at nothing to go on his killing rampage, selectively picking his victims at will, before coming face to face with his nemesis Laurie again.

The climax of the movie also hits some great strides and rewards with the choices that the characters take to meet the conclusion and puts you through the wringer whilst leaving you pleasantly satisfied with the result.

 

The Diagnosis:

 

“Welcome back Michael Myers.

David Gordon Green and Danny McBride have successfully resurrected new life into a much-loved franchise and delivered a movie that will delight both old and new generations alike.

Congratulations to the Blumhouse team. You’ve produced the best Halloween film in 40 years.”

 

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: Malevolent

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Malevolent is one of those movies that spring up on Netflix that you say to yourself one day, “Oh yeah, I’ll give that a go,” with very little expectation. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that it was a semi-decent British horror film that pulsates with enough intrigue and mystery to pull you along to the end hoping that the characters live to see it through their ordeal.

The story follows some charlatans who claim that one of their group is a medium with the ability to warn off ghosts and send them on their way. The group consists of siblings Angela (the medium), Jackson (the ambitious kid up to his eyes in debt with the heavies breathing down his neck), Beth (Jackson’s girlfriend), and Elliot (the techie who has all the camera and sound gear, and is a little keen on Angela).
Angela and Jackson just so happen to carry a dark past, when their mother committed suicide after allegedly not being able to handle her gift. You see she actually could contact the dead, and this gift is carried down to Angela who has her awakening during the beginning of the film.

Worried that she will react the same way as her mother, Angela is hesitant to pursue this gift any further, but is compelled to go on one last charade to save her brother from the mob, little knowing that they are about to go out of their depths and into the world of paranormal.

The relationship between Angela and Jackson are integral to the Malevolent’s success and Florence Pugh, (who is about to star in BBC’s The Little Drummer Girl and looks destined for greater things to come) and Ben Lloyd-Hughes (The Divergent Series) immerse into their respect roles with relative ease.

A worthy nod should be made for Scott Chambers who plays Elliot (effectively the heart of the movie) and delivers a charming and likeable performance; plus the always-amazing Celia Imrie as the landlady of the haunted estate with her own inner demons.

The Diagnosis:

This haunted house story evolves at a predictable pace but delights in many ways with a simple story of love, hope, and loss.

 

  • Saul Muerte