UK digital and DVD release – TBC
Personal demons and past traumas are ripe material for a moody thriller or a slow burning horror tale, and in this case it’s certainly what they were aiming for in a story of troubled pasts and damaged psyches. However what they had in mind and what we get are often misaligned, which again is certainly the case here. It’s a story about juvenile delinquents stuck in doing menial labour in between rehearsals for a stage production, which in itself should have provided plenty of entertaining material as a mismatched gang of reprobates have to put up with both antagonistic authority figures and their own unbalanced personalities. But aiming for big ideas and putting the pieces together effectively are two entirely different things, particularly when ghosts and shadowy figures are also thrown into the mix.
Vivian (Shelby Young) is having a lot of mental problems and finds herself waiting to be collected from a bus station in Cawdor. Greeted by some suspiciously ethereal characters and a hazy mix of bad close-ups and red filters, her mind is less than stable. However these troubling visions pass rather quickly when her ride shows up, and they’re not given a lot of explanation after she’s taken to her next stop – The Barn Theatre. This is no average theatre troupe gathering. These youngsters are all here for one reason; it’s part of a prison camp system they’ve been placed in after various misdemeanours. Is it really something that would happen out in the sticks with minimal supervision? Do they really make you act out Shakespeare in between physical labour for things like drink driving in some States? I guess it’s pretty unlikely. But after a familiar speech about there being “no guards and no barbed wire” these ruffians are put to work regardless of their circumstances.
It’s clear that Vivian is not doing time here for shoplifting, and her real situation makes it seem unlikely that anyone would let her join in with this group so freely and without early disclosure. Between her jarring monochrome flashbacks and the antics of the other twerps involved, we are introduced to the theatre owner Lawrence (Cary Elwes) who wants them to perform that one particular play associated with Scotland… yes they really throw in the Macbeth curse cliché just for good measure. Declaring that the Bard was the ‘greatest playwright known to mankind‘ this guy seems to have issues of his own that are bubbling under the surface. His wife’s overt discomfort at the idea of this performance is surely not a good sign.
Elwes gives a reasonable performance as someone with passion trying to get these ruffians into the spirit of things, and Young does a fair job in the role of the ambitious Queen in the story once the rehearsals get going. With all the teacher and student relationship drama and the mystery of their personal baggage, there’s just one problem – the haunting part of all this. A lot of the time this is almost totally absent, and the whole film lacks any kind of sinister edge or ghostly atmosphere. The delinquents don’t even get up to that much trouble considering the situation. It feels like a high school plot with all the other ideas being put aside and thrown back in at the last minute. Although when the horror genre aspects actually show up they don’t exactly help things along.
Hints of a figure in black are fed to us as things progress and Vivian finds clues to a missing girl called Jeanette during her time alone in the dressing room. Is her locker really haunted or is it in her mind? Is this really another haunted VHS tape story or is this writer losing their own marbles? While you might have been expecting a simple ending where certain characters snap and the bodies pile up, things are not that interesting and the big stupid finale sort of undermines the smallest things of note that I might have considered as plus points. Once the b-plot about Lawrence’s last doomed performance of Macbeth is wrapped up things just become totally ridiculous.
There’s a lot of potential here with the idea of young thugs finding culture, as well as the psychological drama elements involved with certain characters. It could have been explored far more than this. But the random moments of horror actually feel at odds with the more serious messages that might have been woven into the story. It’s too slow and ineffective to deliver anything really harrowing, and it’s too bland to be any fun. Brief moments of amateur dramatics and personal reflection just aren’t enough to raise this into anything close to a recommendation, so you’re better off skipping this performance.