In Review: The Secret of Crickley Hall
BBC DVD, 175 minutes. Originally aired in three parts from November 18, 2012 – December 2, 2012.
Written and Directed by Joe Ahearne, based on the novel by James Herbert
The cover: There’s nothing on this cover to distinguish it from among the hundreds of horror titles that flood the entertainment market each month, which surprised me since this is from the BBC, as shown in the upper left hand corner. There’s a generic large house with one light on, several crows flying above it, and a giant skull behind the birds. The tagline at the bottom reads, “They came to escape the past, the past had other ideas.” Having seen this production, this cover cheapens the film and misguides anyone who picks it up. The “Hall” looks nothing like this image, there are no birds at any time, and the skull is the wrong image to promote this ghost story. This looks slapped together. Showing the leads, or at least Suranne Jones, would have been so much better. Overall grade: D+
The premise: From the back of the box, “Based on the novel by best-selling author James Herbert, this dark thriller begins a year after the disappearance of Cam, the son of Gabe Caleigh (Tom Ellis, The Fades) and his wife Eve (Suranne Jones, Doctor Who). As the couple and their two daughters attempt to start anew, they head to Crickley Hall–a seemingly perfect countryside house. But when cellar doors start to open on their own, phantom children’s cries are heard through the night and a frenzied cane-wielding specter rears its horrifying head, the Caleigh’s (sic) realize the house comes with a lot more than they bargained for. Just as they’re ready to move out, Eve Caleigh hears Cam’s cries and all bets are off.” A neat idea for a story or film, having a missing child figure into a haunted house story. I’m intrigued. Overall grade: B
The characters/actors: The star of this production is Suranne Jones as mom Eve. Feeling responsible for the loss of Cam, she goes into a funk that only a change of address seems destined to fix. Upon hearing her son’s voice in the Hall, she perks up, feeling that he’s alive since she and her son share a psychic bond. This bond is forgotten after the first episode. Jones is quite good as a mom who is willing to do anything to get her son back, and her confrontations with her husband over Cam are even better. She carries the film well on her shoulders. Tom Ellis as Gabe doesn’t get to do much in this except placate his wife and daughters and leave the house before anything major goes down. His purpose is to remind the audience that there is another parent around, occasionally. Maisie Williams, from Game of Thrones, plays older daughter Loren and she gets to do more. She actually has her own separate story as we see how she tries to fit in at her new school and “smashing” isn’t strong enough a word. I was concerned that her character would be confined to concerned glances, but as the adaption progresses she gets more to do and is a stand out by the end. Little sister Cally is played by Pixie Davies is cute as a button and delivers her lines better than you would expect from someone her age. Former Hall gardener is played by David Warner, and I’m the sort of fan that everything is improved by David Warner’s presence and this is no different. I admit to getting weepy in his last scene. In the middle of the story Gordon Pyke and Lili Peel enter, played by Donald Sumpter and Susan Lynch. Both characters are opposites, with Pyke being a paranormal investigator and Peel being a psychic medium. Sumpter has more to do than Lynch, as she serves as the cliché character that can reach the dead on demand, though the character’s backstory was very strong. Lynch does what she can with the role, which isn’t much, and Sumpter eats the scenery in the end. One final character in the present deserving of mention is the female bully played by Shannon Beer. Her looks and lines are perfection and she is so good at being mean that when things happen to her it’s hard not to cheer. In 1943 a few of the characters are the same, but obviously played by different actors. Olivia Cooke plays teacher Nancy Linnet who goes on a mission and has to face the consequences. She was fantastic and the character’s arc completely believable. Playing young Percy Judd was Ian De Caestecker, who was equally amazing. He, too, has a great arc, and paired with Linnet was heaven. If the BBC want to cast this duo in anything else I will seek it out, the chemistry is that good! Inside Crickley Hall is Augustus Cribben played by Douglas Henshall. In the first part Cribben is a frightful beast seen in shadow until finally revealed: he is only whispered about until seen and it is a terrific moment. After the first hour, he becomes a bug-eyed one-dimensional villain. I was disappointed. His sister Magda is played by Sarah Smart, and I found her to be much more intriguing. She has a monstrous secret and her covering of her brother’s sins was the highlight of the Hall. Her dialogue with her accusers is dynamite business. The oldest orphan the Cribbens have raised is Maurice Stafford, Bill Milner. I found myself going back and forth, hating then pitying, this character. My feelings for this character are a testament to Milner’s portrayal. The other orphan of merit is Stefan Rosenbaum played by Kian Parsiani. I can’t tell if this character was stoic due to the character’s resolve or Ahearne’s direction. This character is very important, but Parsiani is so absent of emotion it’s hard to relate to him. Overall grade: B
The story: The first half an hour was tough to get through as everything is building to the first supernatural moment, and they come slowly. However, the second part of the hour was electric! I was very thrilled. The second hour’s addition of Lili Peel let me down. Things became very traditional and familiar to anyone who’s read or seen a ghost story. The final moments of the second hour have a big reveal, and brings the heat back to the story. The final hour builds to the expected climax, but it is really only until one gets there can you foresee how this will conclude. Overall grade: B-
The direction: I had some problems with the first hour as Joe Ahearne would transition between past and present quickly, not giving me enough time to do so, though this became a non-issue as I continued to watch. I found myself liking the 1943 sequences better than the present simply because of the period, and the two leads shinned so brightly. I was impressed by the “low” effects, such as doors silently opening or sounds, and that’s what a haunted house/ghost story should have. They worked very effectively on this film. Overall grade: B
The good: The actors, the setting, the score (by Dan Jones), and every scene in 1943.
The bad: The story leaves several questions unresolved for the plight in the present, Lili Peel, and a general sense of “been there, done that.”
The final line: A decent ghost story with a better than average justification for the horror, with the scenes in the past amazing. This isn’t something you’ll remember after a while, but it will entertain you while you’re watching it. Overall grade: B
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for a few years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” He had to give that up to teach 8th graders English for 19 years. He’s since moved to a high school where he’s taught 9th grade and currently teaches 10th graders English. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars or Indiana Jones items online.