Voice From The Stone

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Voice From The Stone
"Voice From The Stone is an accomplished piece of work."

What makes a good ghost sory? In the cinema, as on the written page, it's all about atmosphere. From the moment that Verena (Emilia Clarke) approaches the crumbling stately home where she is to take up her role as support worker for a troubled boy, it's clear that Eric D Howell's film has got it in spades. The rich tone of Verena's coat catches the red of autumn leaves scaling the stone walls above her, the red of her lipstick, the late afternoon light of her flushed skin. Deep blue-greens and greys detail the surrounding landscape. The interloper is marked out, sensual, coming like the turning season to bring change to a place where things have gone on much the same way for centuries.

Of course, as far as the outside world sees her, as far as she sees herself, Verena is an innocent. Clarke's round, child-like face sometimes mirrors very closely that of the boy, Jakob (Edward Dring), though there's another resemblance that's more troubling. Jakob's mother (Caterina Murino) has recently died (having contracted one of those mysterious wasting fevers so beloved of the Gothic) and since that time, Jakob has not spoken. His stern yet sympathetic father, Klaus (Marton Csokas), wants Verena to remedy this. She has a history of comings and goings, solving children's problems and then making painful goodbyes. As the two begin to bond, one wonders if she has inadvertently given Jakob another reason to refrain from speaking, because he knows that if he does, he'll lose her.

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There's more, of course. The house is full of the dead mother's presence. A portrait captures her in Carnegie hall; the piano she played so well is silent. She was left a wardrobe full of magnificent dresses, a sculpture her husband couldn't bring himself to finish. This is a house built with the stone and the fortune drawn from the local quarry, and everywhere the stone is present too, creating the stage on which the drama is played out, moulding and restraining the players. Jakob presses his face against it in the night, listening for his mother's voice. she, of course, is buried in a great stone tomb. With narrow beams of wavering light and long shadows, Howell creates the sense that the boy is being drawn back and away, as if he were being sucked down into the ground.

Verena, initially uncommitted but gradually getting caught up in a drama not her own, has that combination of fragility and dangerousness that makes the perfect Gothic heroine. As she finds herself increasingly attracted to the distant, tortured Klaus, and overwhelmed by her protective feelings for Jakob, she might seem to be becoming less and less herself. There's a sinister undercurrent to this that will leave viewers divided over the ending. Clarke, who made quite an impact in Terminator Genisys and subsequently in Game Of Thrones, clearly relishes the opportunity to show her range. Csokas is far more limited by his role, but successfully intimates the pain behin the silences and is compelling in the brief moments when lets his emotions come out.

With a solid performance from young Dring as well, Voice From The Stone is an accomplished piece of work. Its flaws are those necessary to the genre, contributing to its texture and depth. There is much that is familiar but it is no less nightmarish as a result. Beyond the shadows, the looming towers and the snatching branches, it's the conflict of wills that fascinates, the jealousy that can be resolved only through surrender. The stone is resilient, enduring, yet it takes the shape it's given.

Reviewed on: 01 Sep 2017
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Verena is a young nurse hired to help a mute young heir in an isolated castle in 1950s Tuscany. She must persuade him that “the dead do not speak”.
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Director: Eric D Howell

Writer: Andrew Shaw, Silvio Raffo

Starring: Emilia Clarke, Marton Csokas, Caterina Murino, Remo Girone, Lisa Gastoni

Year: 2017

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Italy

Festivals:

Frightfest 2017

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If you like this, try:

Jane Eyre
Through The Shadow