Stormhouse

Stormhouse

***

Reviewed by: David Graham

Writer-director Dan Turner offers up a modest little Brit chiller that won't set the box office alight but has plenty of atmosphere and imagination to commend it. In the tradition of celebrated Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale, Stormhouse combines politics, sci-fi and the supernatural in a fashion both familiar and fresh.

With a classically basic set-up that echoes some of the best work of George Romero and John Carpenter - one location, a dozen or so cast members, a mostly unseen force - the film generates a considerable amount of suspense, and manages to be entertaining even when it's falling into implausibility during the frenetic final stretch.

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Katherine Flynn stars as American empath Hayley, who has been granted access to a top-secret military operation involving a captured and malevolent spirit. The initially reticent Major Lester (Grant Masters) hopes Hayley's ability to communicate with the dead could help unlock the secrets of the entity's existence, allowing the UK government to harness its supernatural power and perhaps use it as a weapon. However, her naive excitement gives way to dread and horror as it becomes clear how dangerous the project could be, the group's exposure to this otherworldly force leading to instances of possession and violence that could result in the spirit breaking out of its subterranean prison.

Turner's ambitious little tale starts off somewhat shakily, with the annoyingly perky Flynn failing to convince, especially next to her almost laughably stern co-stars. The situations soon reel the viewer in though, with the simple set-up of the spirit's murky holding chamber leading to some intensely skin-crawling set-pieces. These scenes ingeniously play on our fear of the unknown, with the inky darkness and minimal set-design adding to the claustrophobic terror. The rules for what the spirit can and can't do are frustratingly sketchy, but this just adds to the anxiety, culminating in bursts of invisible violence that manage to be frightening despite being formulaic and conveyed through very cheap-looking special effects.

The fact the film is set just before the invasion of Iraq seems like a token gesture towards making it relevant, but it does throw up some interesting ideas about the insidious nature of terrorism and its superficial similarity to the intrusion of the destructive entity. There are some especially disturbing moments where the spook aligns itself with a captured terrorist, who realises it won't hurt him because it 'understands' him and sees his motives as being similar to its own. Turner also manages to incorporate some viciously visceral gore late in the game, giving the third act an added edge that comes as a pleasing surprise after the relatively subtle build-up.

It's all very silly but also highly watchable, even as it descends into the usual poltergeist chaos and body-jacking paranoia that the likes of Paranormal Activity and Insidious have done so recently and more effectively. The acting is extremely inconsistent; some cliched attempts at creepiness are ruined by the embarrassing performances of the possessed characters, while Andrew Hall is particularly cringe-worthy as the project's late-coming leader.

For the most part however, Turner shows he has a sure grasp of how to pace a low-key horror film and instill a sense of fear in his audience. It's sad that the sustained menace is eventually compromised by a farcical climax - unintentional laughter is guaranteed, just wait til you see what Turner does with a basketball - but if you can suspend your disbelief there's an undercurrent of thought-provoking ideas running right up to the credits, making Stormhouse an unusual and worthwhile entry in the supernatural horror genre.

Reviewed on: 04 Jul 2011
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Stormhouse packshot
UK horror on a military base.
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Director: Dan Turner

Writer: Jason Arnopp, based on the story by Dan Turner and Jason Arnopp

Starring: Grant Masters, Katie Flynn, Grahame Fox, Patrick Flynn, Jordan Pitt, James Capel

Year: 2011

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: UK


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