Ginger Nuts of Horror
by Joe X Young
Sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, a film can grab my attention right from the get-go. The Gatehouse is one such film. The reason for the attention grabbing is that it’s actually off to a quite endearing start with a father and daughter who, armed with a small spade, are going treasure hunting in the woods for a gift he planted there.
Now I have to be absolutely honest about this, I like this film BUT it’s probably not going to appeal to those wanting or expecting something along the lines of ‘Mama’ or ‘The Babadook’ as The Gatehouse has only one real flaw but it’s something of a biggie: It has a severe identity crisis.
Here’s the deal, it has a basic spook story setup with the father, Jack Winter (Simeon Willis), being a writer who is not doing so well with having both financial troubles through lack of work and the recent loss of his wife in a boating accident. The father is a somewhat likeable yet troubled soul as he keeps imagining the less than healthy looking ghost of his dead wife everywhere. He is played with such depth as to be thoroughly credible even when he’s losing his temper with his daughter out of the sheer frustration of life.
The daughter, 10 year old Eternity (Scarlett Rayner), appears at first to be a charmer; she’s hopeful of at some point finding buried treasure in the woods so she can help her dad financially. Sweet kid, yes? Well she would be if she wasn’t prone to being mouthy, pissing off eligible babysitters and buggering things up through clumsiness, some of which is slightly comic. The relationship between father and daughter here is superb, they come across as not just father and daughter but as the best of friends but not in an artificial and sickly way as Eternity is somewhat unruly and needs to be brought under control occasionally. Scarlett Rayner who plays Eternity has only two film credits to her name, The Gatehouse being the first and obviously major role which is very well deserved, brilliantly acted and I dare say she could make it big in the film industry. I know that’s a reaching statement for someone just starting out in acting but she really is that good.
She does contribute one of the elements of the identity crisis to this film as there are moments which are comical yet her delivery is deadpan. Is it a horror film or is it a comedy? It was presented to me as horror, but having seen it I’m not so sure if it’s a horror, a comedy horror, a dark fantasy or something defying a label as it seems to be slipping in and out of expectation at random. It also slips out of POV as suddenly Jack starts narrating the story for a few minutes. It’s all a bit messy, and normally I’d be trashing it like the hard to please sonofabitch I am, but this film seems so casual that it gets away with it all.
Aside from the bad dreams the father is having, in some of which he sees his drowned wife in various situations and others in which he’s harming his daughter in very grisly ways there’s also an ancient curse, a tree god in the woods and a sinister landowner called Algernon Sykes played by Linal Haft who helps the creepy tone of the film along nicely. So far there’s a whole formulaic backing but it’s not actually playing out that way as there are plenty of somewhat subdued ‘jump scares’ which I believe are actually downplayed deliberately with no hyperactive foley.
As mentioned there are parts of this film which seem to be played for low-key laughs which although incongruous actually work in what is an absorbing film with fantastical elements.
It takes quite a while, roughly 50 minutes until something genuinely horrific happens, but when it does it’s certainly unexpected and quite bizarre for a film allegedly based on true events. I’m usually pissed off by films which take too damned long to get some meat on the bones but this film is different. I was, as usual, hoping for a horror film which even if it didn’t scare the living shit out of me would at least deliver a chill or two and this one doesn’t really scare but it’s still pretty good.
There are lovely performances throughout, with nobody coming across as amateur and the youngest member of the cast is every bit as competent as more senior actors such as Linal Haft and Paul Freeman (Probably best remembered for his persistent attempts to steal the Ark of the Covenant from Indiana Jones).
It’s got undertones of The Goonies about it with none of that film’s action but a lot more darkness preventing it actually being a tale for children. It’s one of the strangest films I’ve seen in a good long time, but one that I actually enjoyed throughout even though it has a severe identity crisis.
Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft, Paul Freeman, Hannah Waddingham, Alix Wilton Regan, and Melissa Knatchbull star in a Martin Gooch film.
Available 12/5 on Digital from Uncork’d Entertainment.