Is it possible for anyone to reinvent the haunted house story? No. Is it possible to learn from the genre and have some fun anyway? Definitely. Latest UK horror film Blackwood tries to do just that with a tongue-in-cheek rural ghost story with a few modern twists.
The movie lifts most of its opening scenes directly from The Shining. It begins with Ben Marshall (Ed Stoppard) moving his wife Rachael (Sophia Myles) and son Harry (Isaac Andrews) into a big spooky house called Blackwood so that he can continue his career as a University history professor. The house is big enough for the son to run round exploring and continually getting lost in the nearby woods, where he meets Jack (Russell Tovey) a creepy neighbor who Ben immediately distrusts.
It is revealed that Ben is returning to work after an emotional breakdown and that he has an obsessive mind, which soon turns to the previous occupant of the house that has left mysterious paintings behind. After a few nights in the house Ben begins to have visions involving his son and the neighbor Jack. This leads him to turn his historical, obsessive mind to finding out what happened in the house and local area and what implications it might have for his family.
Like all horror films, there is a lot of exposition and backstory to set up in order to pay off with scares later, which gives the film a slow beginning (and felt a bit like a Goosebumps horror novel for a while). But after the characters, the locations and some key features of the haunted house are in place it soon becomes compelling and begins to twist some of the horror archetypes.
One of the more interesting developments in modern ghost stories is the necessary evolution of technology. Now due to the prevalence of iPhones characters are never alone in the dark; similarly with search engines, haunted houses can be Googled instead of read about in dusty old books. There are also some nice touches that place the action overtly in 21st century Britain: Ben makes BBC 4 style documentaries about history that his son constantly watches, the pub has a Polish bar maid, everyone rolls their own cigarettes…
If there were one scene that I would cut it would be the stereotypical lecturer-giving-an-inspiring-lecture scene that shoehorns in something about his character that, having lecturing experience myself, grates on me and has become such a Hollywood cliché.
Otherwise though Blackwood is a very fun, spooky ghost story with some great UK talent - especially Russell Tovey as a maniac, Paul Kaye as a creepy priest and Sophia Myles as the jaded housewife.
I would also recommend checking out Tovey in the previous short film ROAR which was, like Blackwood, was directed by Adam Wimpenny and written by J.S. Hill…