23rd Nov2020

‘Playhouse’ VOD Review

by Kevin Haldon

Stars: William Holstead, Grace Courtney, Helen MacKay, James Rottger | Written and Directed by Fionn Watts, Toby Watts

As you will see in the coming months, I have been checking out a lot of action movies recently rather than horror fare; so it became apparent I need to switch lanes for a minute… Hence checking out horror film Playhouse. Coming out of FrightFest earlier this year, I had heard a lot about co-directing brothers Fionn and Toby Watts. They had dropped their Gothic haunted castle movie on the world during the Summer digital festival and, for the most part, everything sounded pretty damn positive. Let me tell you, that crowd are die hard with their horror too so you would know if you should give up directing horror and go back to that day job!

I myself am pretty easy going on the horror we Brits put out there, but that’s mostly because we do it better than most (I say most because you can’t beat a good Aussie horror). Especially lately, as many UK filmmakers have been dropping some fantastic scare content. Which meant I was open to checking this one out and see what this duo had done. It’s funny how the co-directing road seems to be a often travelled road right now. Anyway I digress… Playhouse.

Jack Travis (Holstead) is a renowned Horror novelist and looking for a little bit of divine inspiration he has moved out to a castle somewhere in Scotland with his daughter Bee (Grace Courtney). He wants to bring a role play aspect to his stories, the customer can come and stay the weekend and be immersed in the story, but first he must research the castles dark history. Bee invites some friends round and after an argument they decide to scare her by telling her the story of the castle… They inadvertently awake something within the walls. Just down the hill Jenny (MacKay) has moved back home to settle up her Grans belongings, it’s not long before she realises that Jack, Bee and even herself are in danger as the past is set to come back and haunt them.

Playhouse is one of those movies that leans heavily on its setting and rightly so it should. When you have an eerie Gothic Scottish castle. that by all accounts is steeped in this tragic history. then yes you absolutely use it to your advantage; because often the setting becomes another character if not the most important one. These two brothers clearly have a passion for this story and while sometimes it felt slightly out of whack, storyline-wise it was all forgivable because the performance of our lead William Holstead who gives next-level commitment to the role.

Holstead is far and away the star of this movie and that’s because he goes for it! Lines of dialogue, and scenes that require all the style and theatricality just the right side of insanity, which makes the “is a possession happening before our eyes?” a little more palatable. Grace Courtney, as his daughter Bee, was on fine form too and held her own against Holstead’s antics. She brings a hell of a prescence to the setting and has that old school horror look that made these movies what they were.

This is not perfect by a long shot, but all you can ask for from a low-budget indie horror is that they nail the tension and build it in a satisfying way and they nail the scares in the right places. The jump scares in Playhouse are spot on and really well done.

The praise this one has been getting is deserved. I liked Playhouse. Did it change my world? Is it groundbreaking horror? Not really to both. But for a first horror feature from these brothers it’s a great start, they knew every inch of this setting and used it to full effect. I hope to see them putting out more in the future.

*** 3/5

A cracking low-budget Gothic horror that evokes the work of Edgar Alan Poe with dash of Shakespeare’s theatricality, Playhouse is available on VOD now.

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