The Breach

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Breach
"What really holds it all together is Hawco’s down to earth performance as a detective striving to retain his focus on the practical side of the job."

A marriage of police procedural and Lovecraftian horror, Rodrigo Gudiño and Ian Weir’s take on Nick Cutter’s popular genre novel is treading familiar territory for the Fantasia international Film Festival but manages to acquit itself with some distinction thanks to the groundedness and specificity of its approach. It begins when a spectacularly mangled body floats down the Porcupine river in a canoe, and ends in a place which is predictable yet nonetheless retains its sinister quality.

Allan Hawco plays police chief John Hawkins, who is just one week away from moving down south to take up a new job – the very worst time to happen upon a case like this. “This is Jake’s kind of case,” says an officer at the scene of the discovery, referring to Jacob Redgrave (Wesley French). As the jealous former boyfriend of Meg (Emily Alatalo), the woman whom John is on the verge of breaking up with, he’s not going to be the easiest person to work with, but John agrees. Since Meg knows the wilderness upriver better than anyone else, they take her with them as their guide.

Copy picture

They’re pretty sure where the body came from. An ID card in the pocket gives the name of Dr. Cole Parsons, a reclusive particle physicist who was renting a big house up there in order to work, and who had previously come to police attention when his young daughter Isabelle (Ava Weiss) went missing – she has still not been found. The last thing they know about Isabelle’s mother, Linda (Natalie Brown), is that she was admitted to an asylum after uttering the words “That thing my husband built stole my little girl.”

Whilst there’s a fairly solid structure underlying the story, the film is really aimed at fans with baggage – the sort who will experience an extra frisson of fear as Meg goes down to explore the basement or as steps descend from the attic in the middle of the night. There are many elements of a classic haunted house movie here. The men express surprise that such a large, rambling construction – presumably very hard to keep warm in winter – would have been built so far north. It’s in a poor state of repair, with lights which keep flickering on and off, and it makes odd creaking sounds, Jake seems badly affected, and begins to look ill. Is it the stress of being around John and Meg, an ordinary minor ailment, or something about the house itself?

Most of the production design team’s effort here has gone into Parsons’ laboratory, which is very much a cliché and yet entirely appropriate in context, with a more up to date surprise hidden beneath the sheafs of paper, the crumbling books, and walls covered in a collage of Medieval illustrations, photographs, diagrams, scrawled notes and peculiar sigils. Elsewhere, a large machine stands against one wall, containing a keyhole-shaped portal. Wisely, Gudiño never lets us get a good look at it, using sidelong angles or distracting illumination to preserve its mystery, making it a thing of hints and expectations in the proper style.

Some of what follows comes across like a middle class version of The Dunwich Horror. Magnificent sound design adds to the sense of presence in the house and helps to carry the film through its slower middle section, as other characters arrive to complicate the plot and deepen the mystery. Then it’s straight on to body horror and a more corporeal sense of peril, though Gudiño never relies on using monsters to frighten us and keeps the focus where it needs to be, on Parsons’ meddling with dangerous ideas.

What really holds it all together is Hawco’s down to earth performance as a detective striving to retain his focus on the practical side of the job – a man who does not waste time denying the evidence of his own eyes when strange things start to happen, but who doesn’t let unknowable cosmic weirdness get in the way of doing his job. He’s ably supported in this by Alatalo, whose character gets her fair share of action and is never simply relegated to complicating love interest. The difficult personal situation which John and Meg face adds depth to the film and a sense of maturity which is important in that it tells us these are seasoned individuals not easily overwhelmed by emotion; they are measured and sane and what happens to them is not.

The physical effects work here is good, and properly unpleasant, but again, Gudiño never pays it undue attention. Whilst non-horror fans are likely to find it too much for them, this isn’t a gorefest. What matters throughout is the story, and despite its familiar aspects, it is, in its own way, a ripping yarn.

Reviewed on: 26 Jul 2022
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John Hawkins, who is set to retire as police chief is tucked away in deep wood. Following the discovery of a gruesome body with uncanny injuries, he's pulled into an investigation to solve the horrifying mystery, which evades explanation.

Director: Rodrigo Gudiño

Writer: Ian Weir, based on the book by Nick Cutter

Starring: Natalie Brown, Allan Hawco, Emily Alatalo, Eva Weiss, Wesley French

Year: 2022

Country: Canada


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