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If only more horror films took this approach . . .
Every year, around this time, a film festival called Horrorthon, run by and synonymous with Ed King, a filmmaker himself (check him out here on IMDb), takes place in the Irish Film Institute in Dublin, showing the best old and new films in the horror/fantasy/whatever-tickles-Ed's-fancy genre. This year's lineup included the world premiere of 'The Undying', a film which, while not wildly revolutionary, manages to provide an interesting and highly watchable take on the traditions of the haunted house/possession film.
The film is essentially a very classical take on the ghost story. Director Steven Peros, a talented writer whose work I'm somewhat familiar with, though this was the first directorial effort of his I'd seen, and with whom I had the pleasure of chatting over the course of the festival, freely acknowledged the influence of films such as 'The Changeling' and Robert Wise's 'The Haunting' on his film, and 'The Undying' has a visual and narrative aesthetic comparable to those and other, more slow-burning films. What makes this film that much more interesting is the incorporation of a romantic element, something that may turn people off with the publicity around films such as 'Twilight' and the success on television of 'True Blood', but in a way is possibly more of an updated reversal of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 'The Ghost And Mrs. Muir'.
Robin Weigert (unrecognisable from her appearances in 'Deadwood' and 'Synecdoche, New York' - turns out she's really cute!) gives a brave and hugely committed performance as the bereft doctor, mourning the death of her fiancée, who falls for a ghost she is told also lost the love of his life, and who will go to extreme lengths to reincorporate him. Unfortunately, her choice of a body for him turns out to be ill-advised, as elements of the personality of the body's former owner rise to the fore, resulting in violence and tragedy.
The director wisely stays away from the potential gore element so prevalent in horror today and instead focuses on building character, drawing the viewer into the well-constructed story, and actually building a sense of dread, or at least wariness that our heroine may not have made the best choices as the film progresses. At the very least, you actually care enough for her to worry about her. Some may say that this is actually a pacing problem, but I felt it was fascinating and refreshing to see a film of this genre done in a more refined style after years of the blood'n'guts torture porn approach, to see a filmmaker actually use the tools of cinema to tell a story rather than rely on 'EWW!' or 'BOO!'.
If I had to make a criticism, I would say that the score is overly intrusive, I do think that silence can be just as, if not more, effective in a film such as this (surely everyone knows this about horror films), and unfortunately, the almost constant musical cues did take me out of the film for various reasons, perhaps because they were too soap-operatic at times, perhaps because there was just no need for them at others, but this is probably just me being picky.
In the Q&A afterwords, the director stated that he had an idea for a film set for a large part in Ireland (yes, we gave him hell about not making a shamrocks 'n' shillelaghs film), if he could find a producer. Having seen this film, and noticed him talking to the producer of 'Once' in the bar afterwards, I look forward to what Mr. Peros does next.
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