Thursday, June 20, 2024

Blackwater Lane, Based on a B.A. Parris Novel

Cass Anderson would be a perfect heroine for a Mary Roberts Rinehart “Had I But Known” mystery. She is rich, sensitive, and has a history of mental health issues. She also lives in a big, remote manor. Naturally, it is under renovation and the security system is dicey. However, she is married to the protective Matthew, but he starts to worry she needs protecting from herself in Jeff Celentano’s Blackwater Lane, based on B.A. Parris’s novel The Breakdown, which releases tomorrow in theaters.

Being England’s wealthiest high school drama teacher, the well-heeled Anderson promises her husband she will not take the sketchy Blackwater Lane shortcut home after celebrating the last day of school with her colleagues. Of course, it’s late, it’s rainy, and she’s had a few, so she does anyway. She does not have an accident herself, but she notices a car suspiciously parked by the side of the road and the woman inside looks extremely sleepy.

It turns out that was her best-friend Rachel’s co-worker, who was indeed murdered. At first, she is hesitant to mention it, because of her promise to Matthew. However, the police receive a tip that she was there. Subsequently, she starts seeing a mysterious figure watching her from the palatial grounds and a shadowy woman seems to haunt to tarp-strewn wing under renovation. As she remembers relatively mundane things differently than those around her, Matthew worries she might be headed towards another mental breakdown (see, there were two meanings to the word in Parris’s original title).

Anderson’s big creaky manor would be a great setting for a true gothic horror, but it really is more of a yarn in the tradition of Rinehart’s
The Bat. There are two twists horror fans will immediately suspect. One is too ambitious for this film, which necessarily leaves the other.

However, it is somewhat surprising how good Minka Kelly is playing the distraught and quickly overwrought Anderson. Based on her work here, it would be nice to see her in a legit gothic horror film. Unfortunately, the rest of the primary ensemble act in such a flagrantly suspicious manner, it just gets rather silly, like they are mugging for the camera in a spoof, rather than a semi-serious old dark house horror movie. That even includes Dermot Mulroney (who was terrific in the exploitative but effective
Ruthless) as the always-away-on-business-when-it-really-matters Matthew Anderson.

Kelly exceeds expectations and the design team supplied some appealingly atmospheric sets and trappings. However, the pacing is a bit sluggish and the supporting performances are off-key. Not recommended,
Blackwater Lane releases tomorrow (6/21) on VOD and it opens in New York at the Cinema Village.