Stars: Dyfan Dwyfor, Annes Elwy, Mark Lewis Jones | Written by Ed Talfan | Directed by Gareth Bryn
When it comes to ghost stories, I’m not the biggest fan. Even though I often get irrational fears such as someone grabbing my foot as I walk up the stairs or seeing a distorted reflection in the mirror when you I go for a pee in the middle of the night, I really don’t believe in ghosts or outside forces. When it comes to films about ghosts, I’m even less of a fan. How many times do I have to suffer cheap orchestra stabs when the ghost pops up in front of the camera? You know the score and you’re probably tired of it too. Thankfully, with The Passing (original title: Yr Ymadawiad), Gareth Bryn and a selection of those involved with the critically acclaimed police detective drama series Hinterland (original title: Y Gwyll) have crafted a slow-burning ghost story that may just be the remedy for those cheap CGI-laden jump-scare fests we’ve all come to hate so much.
Stanley (Jones) lives a life of solitude on his small farm in an unnamed and remote mountainous region of Wales. One day, whilst carrying out his daily jobs in and around the farm, he hears a lingering car horn in the distance. Upon investigation, he discovers a crashed car plunged in the nearby river. Young couple Iwan (Dwyfor) and Sara (Elwy) are the sole passengers and seeing that Sara is severely injured, Stanley is quick to help and subsequently allows the pair to stay with him while Sara recovers. As if his life wasn’t shaken up enough, Stanley soon discovers that there is more to his new house guests than just being merely victims of an unfortunate accident. Likewise, both Iwan and Sara discover that their lonely host has secrets of his own.
If my synopsis seems somewhat short and vague, there’s a good reason; this is a tough film NOT to spoil. This is a film that would severely lose its affect if you knew too much and trust me when I say that you NEED to see this film! First of all, I can’t think of many other genre films like this set in Wales and shot entirely in Welsh. Right off the bat, it’s a unique experience. Secondly, this is such a beautifully shot film. Richard Stoddard’s (Outpost) cinematography is second to none. This is thanks to a combination of genuine skill and an amazing setting. On the one hand you have the absolutely beautiful Welsh landscape that is vast, yet has a real sense of isolation and then you have the almost dilapidated and claustrophobic farmhouse interiors. It’s the perfect combination of environments lensed perfectly by Stoddard . To compliment this we have a simple, yet effective original score from Jeremy Holland-Smith (The Dumping Ground). His use of keys and strings provide us with a dark and brooding atmosphere that compliments the visuals perfectly. It’s a true triumph and just goes to show that you don’t need a gigantic budget or big name to produce visuals and atmosphere. It really is a bleak, yet beautiful film to watch. Of course, just because a film ticks all the boxes in the style department, doesn’t always mean it’s a good film. Thankfully, this is a film that has both style and substance.
All in all, Ed Talfan (Y Pris) has crafted an almost perfect story and script. I really cannot fault the writing at all. Yes, it is indeed a slow-burner, but it works well within the context of the story. The film has the same atmosphere and simplicity of the likes of the classic made-for-TV M. R. James BBC adaptations of yesteryear. That being said, there are some themes found in The Passing that are much more mature and explicit, but it never sways in to the absurd. I won’t lie, there will be some people who say this film is too slow and outright boring. I hope the more forgiving amongst you feel the exact opposite. The sense of isolation and claustrophobia found in the visuals are felt throughout the writing and the tension adds to an atmosphere that makes for some genuinely unnerving and outright uncomfortable moments. Paranoia and mistrust are the main themes with relationships becoming much more fractured as the film progresses. To compliment solidly written and believable characters, we have performances of equally high calibre. Again, I can’t find fault in the performances and the fact that there are only three main cast members that you can’t stop watching really says something about the quality of the film.
Ultimately, Gareth Bryn’s debut feature is one that should go down as a contemporary masterpiece and I look forward to seeing what else is in store from a man who has already shown what Wales has to offer creatively for television. Like I said, The Passing is not for everybody and I know for a fact some will just completely disregard the film, but if you want a haunting and atmospheric ghost tale that works on both a literal and metaphorical level, do yourself a favour and watch this film as soon as the opportunity manifests itself.
The Passing opened on limited release across the UK on April 8th.