Eye For Film >> Movies >> Castle Freak (2020) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Sometimes life rearranges itself with no warning. For Rebecca (Clair Catherine) it's a car crash, coming out of the blue when she and boyfriend John (Jake Horowitz) are driving down a sunny road. It costs her her sight. Then, as she's trying to get her bearings in an altered world, there's a second shock, rather different in nature. She receives notice that her birth mother has died, and that she's inherited an Albanian castle.
The couple don't consider keeping the castle. They already understand that life with a disability is expensive. John is showing the kind of irritation that carers often experience when the realisation sets in that they could be doing this for the rest of their lives. With that in mind, a stunning holiday home doesn't seem like a high priority. Before selling it, though, he wants to throw a party for some of their friends, and Rebecca wants to find out more about her family background.
One has to assume that she hasn't read any HP Lovecraft. Finding out that she's the daughter of one Lavinia Whateley could easily have been shock number three. She does feel a strange connection to her mother, however, and dreams of the self-flagellation that reportedly led to her death. Being in the castle gives her a strange feeling - almost as if some part of her family were still there.
Not a straight remake of Stuart Gordon's 1995 version, this film benefits from a substantially larger budget, but it hasn't lost track of its roots. Chris Galust has fun channelling Jeffrey Combs as the scholarly friend who stands up for Rebecca when John mistreats her, but who never looks at her the way he looks at a certain book uncovered in the castle. Spiro Nino's exquisite cinematography makes the most of the crisp mountain light and contributes to a fresh, sophisticated ambience, but by the time we reach the finale we're in classic Gordon-style horror territory. The shift in styles enhances the film's impact, its languid opening scenes and slow burn, Gothic first half giving way to increasingly playful horror with a blast of additional energy in the closing scenes.
Changing the gender balance of the film (and the stories that it draws on) changes a lot. Shifting the story in time by just 25 years also obliges it to acknowledge a shift in audience attitudes to disability and disfigurement, and it does so in a natural, easy way that enriches the story rather than making it feel awkward. Suspicious villagers and the couple's awful friends provide some cheesy entertainment but there's also some more complex storytelling and pleasingly ambiguous character dynamics, not just between Rebecca and John.
With Barbara Crampton on hand as producer, the film does right by both Gordon and his literary antecedent, but you don't need to be a fan of either in order to find it a satisfying watch. For all that it plays with some familiar archetypes, stylistically it's breath of fresh air, and Catherine's work in the lead gives it a strange kind of sincerity that will stay with you.Reviewed on: 06 Dec 2020
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