Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Frightfest ’17: Voice from the Stone

Ever since the death of his mother, young entitled Jakob Rivi has refused to talk. For some reason, his sculptor father Klaus considers this a problem, rather than a consolation. More nurses have been fired at the Rivi estate than Trump West Wing staffers, but the oddly intense Verena might be different. However, she might be dealing with supernatural matters outside her area of expertise in Eric D. Howell’s Voice from the Stone (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Frightfest in the UK.

To call the Rivi’s home a manse or a villa would be an understatement. It has crenellations. It has also seen better days. Much of the masonry is chipped and cracking, unfortunately including Jakob’s room. Ever since the death of his pianist mother Malvina (doesn’t “mal” usually mean bad?), he has supposedly heard her speaking to him through the aperture in his wall. It seems he is afraid that if he starts talking, she will stop.

Enter Verena (presumably named after St. Verena, the patron saint of nurses and lepers, don’t you reckon?). At first, she is having none of Jakob’s spookiness. Yet, as her protective mothering instincts start to kick in, she begins to suspect there maybe something to it after all. The more driven she is to help Jakob, the more she and Klaus feel their powerful mutual attraction. She even starts sitting as a model for his unfinished statue of Malvina after he realizes how much they look alike. Yeah okay, if he says so, but not really.

Based on Silvio Raffo’s Italian novel, Stone clearly echoes Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca and Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, but it is really stingy with the sinister elements until late in the third act. There is at least one uncanny plot twist supposedly hiding in plain sight, but it is distractingly obvious (especially considering one late 1990s blockbuster is famously constructed around a similar revelation).

What works here is the atmospheric, Hammer-esque 1950s costumes, sets, and trappings. Castle Rivi and the family mausoleum are terrific gothic locations, but Emilia Clarke and Marton Csokas are no Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. Of the two, he fares the better, mostly just brooding and glowering like Edward Rochester’s less imposing cousin. The work of Clarke, (a Game of Thrones fan favorite) is rather lightweight, but she tries to compensate by opening her eyes impossibly wide. It is hard to imagine anyone would confuse her with Caterina Murino, which is why the audience starts to pine for Malvina along with Jakob (let’s just say he looks awkward on-screen and leave it at that).

Stone looks great, but it has no passion or sense of urgency. It is a strange choice for Howell, considering the grittiness of his Oscar-shortlisted short Ana’s Playground, but one could argue both films fully capitalize on the architecture of their settings. The ending almost redeems Voice from the Stone, but there are much better genre films at this year’s Frightfest UK, including Psychopaths, Sequence Break, Game of Death, Mansfield 66/67, The Villainess, Devil’s Gate, Meatball Machine Kodoku, and the short film Bad Heads. Here in the U.S., it is already available on DVD, but it has its UK premiere this Friday (8/25), as part of Frightfest.