Viewer's Discretion: FIlms on British haunting, clash of cultures worth watching
Based on actual events that gripped Great Britain in the 1970s, this three-parter manages to deliver as both a drama and a horror film by letting neither overtake things, but allowing them both to intermingle and cooperate. The film,"The Conjuring 2," is based on the same incident.
The Hodgson family has dealt with some strange occurrences, particularly young Janet (Eleanor Worthington-Cox), who is already having a tough time since her father walked out on the family. Seeking help, mother Peggy (Rosie Cavaliero) contacts the Society for Psychical Research, which sends out first-time investigator Maurice Grosse (Timothy Spall). Grosse is already burdened by the death of his daughter and desperately searching for several things — meaning and connection within his own life, and contact with his daughter's spirit. When several frightening incidents escalate the situation, seasoned investigator Guy Lyon Playfair (Matthew McFayden) signs on and adds a skeptical quality.
The series is about the haunting for sure, but it's about ghosts, both literal and emotional, and, therefore, much more about loss. It's filled with foreboding and chills, but these are in conjunction with the relationship between Janet and Maurice, who bond over the terror and begin to salve their own wounds through that bond.
It's a tender portrayal of two people beaten down by their losses, possessed with rage that they struggle to internalize, and it's inclusion elevates the ghost story to a profound level. Spall and Worthington-Cox are exceptional in their roles, and give the audience something different from the usual horror trope, the realization that you can rely on on other people when facing true horror and you can come to understand it by understanding yourself and each other. After all, what is a poltergeist but a human that hurts as much as you do and doesn't understand it has the freedom to pass on?
SANTOALLA (AMAZON, VUDU)
It's not so uncommon a dream to take off from civilization, find a peaceful place far, far away and work to make that property your own. That's what Dutch couple Martin and Margo Verfondern wanted, and they made their way to Spain eventually, settling into the remains of a decrepit village that they worked to restore and farm.
As so often is the case, one person's getaway is another's family home and the village of Santoalla already had inhabitants — the very last inhabitants after a mass exodus. The Rodriguez family seem tailor-made for a suspense film, an antagonistic and suspicious salt-of-the-earth family of four who don't exactly attack Martin and Margo at first, but just barely manage to make them feel welcome in their space.
And then Martin disappears.
"Santoalla" largely concerns itself with the passive-aggressive clash of cultures between the new inhabitants and the old, and then the self-imposed purgatory of Margo's stay after Martin's disappearance. With no closure to her story there, the dream she shared with Martin is the one thing she has, and she clings to that.
The documentary eventually reveals what happened to Martin and that's certainly important, but that's just part of a larger examination of what happens when two stories collide. Each side in the dispute has its own narrative, and though we are often told in life to follow our dreams, sometimes those dreams don't intertwine comfortably with someone else's path. It's a cautionary tale, but the thing we're supposed to be cautious about is our own joy, and that's hard to accept.
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