16th Mar2020

Starburst Film Festival 2020: ‘An English Haunting’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: David Lenik, Tessa Wood, Barrington De La Roche, Emma Spurgin Hussey, Jéssica Alonso, Rory Wilton | Written and Directed by Charlie Steeds

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Charlie Steeds, director of [Escape From] Cannibal Farm, Winterskin and The Barge People is back once again for An English Haunting, an altogether different film for Steeds given his past track record.

You see those three aforementioned films are very much in a different realm than An English Haunting, they run the gamut from to exploitation to monster movie to 80s-throwback gore-fest. And whilst the previous three films homaged the kinds of movies you’d find in your local video shop back in the 80s/90s – the films of Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter etc.; An English Haunting is more in the vein of the classic M.R. James Christmas ghost stories than genre fans still rave about to this day. It also has one of the most succinct titles of recent memory!

In 1960s England, Blake Cunningham and his alcoholic mother are forced to move into the mysterious Clemonte Hall, a vast isolated manor house, to care for his dying Grandfather who resides in the attic room. Soon, ghostly goings-on fill the house with dread, as it becomes apparent Grandfather’s illness may have a supernatural cause that can only be cured by uncovering the terrifying secrets of the house and its dark history.

Whereas Cannibal Farm and The Barge People were very much brash, in-your-face horror films, An English Haunting takes things considerably more slower and plays with the audience much more subtly – this is a slow burn of a story, with flashes of terror strewn throughout, almost as if to put the audience on edge as much as the films characters. It truly does feel like a huge departure for Steeds, at least in terms of story – but then it also shows just how well rounded Steeds, both as writer and director, is.

What isn’t new and doesn’t feel all that different, is just how well produced the film is. Charlie Steeds and in turn his production company Dark Temple, really do know how to make the most out of their [meagre] budget. Obviously you don’t need as much money when making a supernatural movie as much as you would say, making a monster movie, but what budget the film had, has been VERY well spent. An English Haunting looks fantastic, it looks as though no expense has been spared. Honestly its remarkable – especially in comparison to other low-budget British supernatural horror.

What helps their productions is that Steeds always writes a great film, no matter the subject; and in turn he finds the best cast to perform it; In this case both David Lenik and Barrington De La Roche. However it’s Tessa Wood, as Blake’s alcoholic mother who’s the real star of An English Haunting. Her descent into madness, both because of her alcoholism and because of what her father’s home is putting her through, is a joy (can you say joy about someone who is being terrorised/going mad?) to watch. Wood walks a very fine line between nuanced and over-wrought, almost over-exaggerating at times but always pulling back at the last minute in a display of real acting prowess.

A film that plays on the idea of the English “stiff upper lip” leading to secrets and lies – after all we Brits always like to keep our dirty secrets in the dark for as long as possible – An English Haunting is another brilliant genre film from Charlie Steeds and Dark Temple Motion Pictures; making them four for four in my book. Bring on the next film I say!

**** 4/5

An English Haunting screened at the Starburst Internation Film Festival on Saturday March 14th 2020.

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