A HAUNTING IN CAWDOR (2015)

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Personal demons and past traumas are ripe material for a moody thriller or a slow burning horror story. In this case it’s certainly what they were aiming for in a tale of troubled pasts and damaged psyches. However what the makers had in mind and what we get are often wildly out of sync, which is certainly true here. It’s a film about juvenile delinquents stuck in doing menial labour in between rehearsals for a stage production. This alone 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 are also being thrown into the mix.

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Vivian (Shelby Young) is having a lot of mental health problems and finds herself waiting to be collected from a bus station in the eponymous town of Cawdor. It’s clear her mind is unstable when she’s greeted by some ethereal characters and a hazy mix of bad close-ups and red filters. However these visions pass rather quickly when her ride shows up and they’re not given much explanation after she arrives at The Barn Theatre. But this is no average theatre troupe gathering. These youngsters are all here for one reason; it’s part of a prison they’ve been placed in. Is it really something that happens out in the sticks with minimal supervision? Is acting out Shakespeare in between physical labour a punishment in some American States? It seems 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 flashbacks and the antics of the other twerps involved we are introduced to the theatre owner. Lawrence (Cary Elwes) 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 the performance is surely not a good sign.

Elwes gives a reasonable performance as someone with passion trying to get the inmates into the spirit of things, and Young does a fair job in the role of the ambitious Queen once the rehearsals get going. With all the relationship drama and the mystery of so much personal baggage, there’s just one problem – that whole haunting narrative. For a lot of the time this is totally absent, and the film lacks any kind of sinister or ghostly atmosphere. The delinquents don’t even get up to that much trouble considering the situation. It feels like a high school drama where all the other ideas are put aside just to be thrown back in at the last minute. Although when the horror elements actually show up they don’t exactly help the movie.

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Hints of an eerie figure in black are often shown as the story progresses and Vivian finds clues to a missing girl called Jeanette during her time alone in the theatre. Is her dressing room locker really haunted or is it all just in her mind? Is this actually another haunted VHS tape story or is it the writers of the film itself who are losing their marbles? While you might have been expecting a simple ending where certain characters snap and the bodies start to pile up things are never even that interesting. In the end a big dumb finale undermines a lot of the smallest inclusions that might have been considered as positives up to that point.

Once a subplot about Lawrence’s last doomed performance of Macbeth is wrapped up things just become completely ridiculous. Which is a shame because it could be more than the sum of these parts. On the surface there’s actually a lot of potential here with the idea of young thugs finding new ways to express themselves through culture or art. The psychological drama associated with certain characters is also an interesting one. It could have been explored with far more depth if it was actually allowed to breathe as a real drama. But ultimately the random moments of horror feel at odds with any of the more serious messages that could have been woven into the story.

It’s too slow and ineffective to deliver anything really harrowing, and it’s just too bland to be any real fun. A few brief moments of amateur dramatics and a handful of scenes involving personal reflection just aren’t enough to raise this to that level. As a result it never builds to anything worthy of a recommendation, so you’re better off skipping this performance altogether.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

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About Mocata 146 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, world cinema, martial arts and all kinds of assorted stuff and nonsense. If you enjoy a bullet ballet, a good eye ball gag or a story about time travelling robots maybe we can be friends after all.

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