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February 24, 2015
A ghost story like no other. In an attempt to leave their swarded past behind, Blackwood (2014) follows a dysfunctional family’s move to rural Surrey as they start their new life in an eerily-sized Manor House for just the three of them. Protagonist and college professor Ben Marshall (Ed Stoppard) attempts to rid himself of his demons with the move, in a drastic attempt to piece back together a family that was never meant to be.
Without upsetting an audience’s presupposed desires for the genre, the film makes no mistake in force-feeding itself with typical ghost story tropes and clichés, a conventional aid into the realms of ghost fiction. Despite its certitude from the off, Blackwood is in fact a far more accomplished, modern take on the typical British ghost story it initially asserts itself to be.
Overcome by ghostly visions and in-fear of loosing his family to a second emotional breakdown, Ben attempts to tackle the sinister happenings on his own, uncovering a local mystery that has the potential to jeopardize both the lives of his family, and his family life.
Plagued by the mystery, Ben’s investigation unravels, alerting him to the ominous characters of local gamekeeper Jack (Russell Tovey) and vicar, Father Patrick (Paul Kaye) who seemingly have a secret they don’t want unearthed. Trouble stews further when Dominic (Greg Wise), old friend and ex-lover to Ben’s wife Rachel (Sophia Myles), enters the picture. Despite the film’s apparently overt opening, the outcome of the plot poetically mimics the secret-ism hidden within the narrative.
Blackwood is unexpectedly non-linear, taking the audience’s mind and dragging it lengthways through a maze of forest pine. Unlike ghost stories gone, you are constantly asked to guess and guess again as the narrative unfolds, before tripping its way toward another potential clue. The film endlessly leaves the audience stranded and at a loss, engulfed in a dead-end of bleak British countryside and visual stimulants, considering colour grading and costume as primitive narrative aiders.
The location is entirely adept, contradicting excitable family values and the chance for a new life in loveable sweeping Surrey hill-scape with a relentless documentation of space, vastness, emptiness and solitude. The performances are strong throughout, documenting an array of foible-ridden characters which lack empathy, whilst the script is naturalistic, taking a back seat to the continual meandering of the narrative.
The use of music is particularly notable: a camouflaged aural aid to the visuals, subtly building tension yet simultaneously shadow-like in secretism. Prompting the audience into assumption, whilst allowing for an element of uncertainty within the visual, second-guessing what they just witnessed.
This film definitely asks its audience to decipher the narrative at the pace of its characters, up keeping its enigmatic aura until the bitter end. Comparable to Shutter Island (2010) in style, the motif of disorientation is key as it continually promotes a multitude of potential outcomes, convoluting the narrative and perplexing its audience triumphantly.
Considering Blackwood is director Adam Wimpenny’s first feature length film, I was truly enthralled by such a well executed film in a genre which threatens to conform rather than surprise. A successfully thought-provoking ghost story/thriller which keeps you guessing at every turn and undoubtedly one to watch.
Blackwood is available on DVD and VOD from February 23rd