We are introduced to Professor Ben Marshall (Ed Stoppard) who has accepted a new job at a university following a nervous breakdown and temporary separation from his wife Rachel (Sophia Myles). After overcoming evidently tough times in the past, Ben has now learned to appreciate the importance of family.
It is with his family that we see Ben moving into the old Blackwood house that has recently been vacated by its mysterious former resident. Retreating to the country to provide his young boy Harry (Isaac Andrews) a better quality of life, Ben soon discovers that things are not as idyllic as he would have hoped, and that something is very wrong with the house and its history. His obsession with uncovering the truth threatens not only his sanity, but also the safety of his family.
Spooky goings-on in the cellar, phantom visitations knocking on the master bedroom door late at night, and visions of a masked child covered in blood are just the start of Ben's problems. This is all before we've even mentioned the less spooky - but equally strange- Jack the rabbit-skinning gamekeeper in the woods (Russell Tovey), the dubious priest Father Patrick (Paul Kaye) or Ben's dodgy associate Dominic (Greg Wise).
Although the film sometimes treads into familiar 'haunted house' territory, Wimpenny masterfully maintains the pace of the narrative throughout, before delivering the delicious twist towards the end. Along the way, we are treated to scenes which will sometimes build up the audience's anticipation as to what will happen next, and other times deliver the good old jump-scare. A major contributing factor to these scenes is the effective use of sound and lighting, which deserve a special mention.
As the film progresses, you find yourself questioning the significance of some of Ben's experiences. It is only towards the film's climax that you realise how well thought-out and directed that these scenes are.
The entire cast give a committed performance. Stoppard's portrayal of the main character keeps the audience wondering whether his experiences can be attributed to his past mental health issues, or if they are indeed linked to the sinister secrets of the old dark house. Paul Kaye and Russell Tovey both deliver interesting performances as locals who may have more involvement with the secret Ben is trying to uncover than they are letting on. Throughout the film, you often wonder whether they can be trusted, or if they actually pose danger to Ben and his family.
It is pleasing to see that Wimpenny has not taken the 'easy route' as many films do to provide cheap thrills. In an age where CGI gore effects are often liberally used, he prefers the approach of 'doing things properly' and building the tension by using subtle techniques. There is an element of the classic horror thriller in how this is achieved, by focussing on the atmosphere rather than gore. Many directors who attempt to establish themselves quickly at feature filmmaking, find it all too tempting to dazzle the audience with cheap thrills - often at the expense of a quality atmospheric narrative. With this evidence from his first venture into the feature, it is encouraging to see that Adam Wimpenny is not one of these filmmakers.
By Andreas Charalambous - 10th November 2013
Blackwood is a British supernatural thriller marking the feature debut of director Adam Wimpenny. Made to a modest budget, this is an example of effective spooky storytelling - written by JS Hill - with a plot twist that will satisfy the audience.
From the very outset, it is clear that the cinematography was approached with the big screen in mind - the beautiful shots of the hilly countryside on a crisp winter's day and the sweeping shots within the gothic Blackwood house, are evidence of this.