The Waterhouse

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Waterhouse
"Calton makes a good lead, finding a vulnerable side to Eric’s character despite his Herculean feats." | Photo: courtesy of Frightfest

The shoreline – whether seen from land or sea – has always had a special status in the minds of storytellers. It’s a liminal space, full of unknown dangers, yet it’s also alluring, full of promise. It makes the perfect setting for an encounter between three men fleeing a complicated past in search of a more prosperous future, as they are forced to linger there in a safehouse which is anything but.

There is supposed to be a fourth person present – Denice, the mother of Matt (Dominic Vulliamy). Before Matt arrives, his older boyfriend, Eric (Alan Calton), explores the house and its surroundings, finding a bloodied bracelet which belonged to Denice – but perhaps because he is afraid of Matt freaking out and upsetting their carefully laid plans, he throws it into the sea. When the remaining member of the gang, Paul (Michelangelo Fortuzzi) arrives, the three of them begin to speculate about what might have happened to Denice and what they should do next.

In the morning, a ship is supposed to arrive to take them away. In the meantime, tensions run high – and when darkness falls the situation is complicated further. A young woman arrives at the house begging for their help. Her friend is in trouble and Eric hurries to the rescue – but in this delicate situation, the last thing the men need is company. They are art thieves, not killers. They bicker over what to do whilst trying to present a semblance of normality. In the process, the cracks in Matt and Eric’s relationship grow wider, as old secrets threaten to bubble to the surface.

Samuel Clemens’ poetic feature début, which screened as part of Halloween Frightfest 2023, combines elements of Greek tragedy with post-heist thriller and slow burn horror. It’s beautifully shot, with an unusual colour palette which reflects the artwork at its centre, and makes good use of its simple but distinctive location. The effects work – mostly of the sort designed to pass unnoticed – is impressive given its obvious budgetary constraints, and enables it to punch above its weight.

In places the story feels a little stretched, trying to fit in so much reference and allegory that it doesn’t hit home when it should, and whilst Clemens wisely chooses to keep certain things offscreen in order to let viewers’ imaginations do the work, there are points when this leaves us emotionally adrift. Calton makes a good lead, finding a vulnerable side to Eric’s character despite his Herculean feats, and this becomes all the more important in the latter part of the film when a story which could have relied primarily on fear of personal danger instead becomes dominated by his guilt and fear for Matt.

As Paul faces his own temptations and all three of the men realise they’re out of their depth, the pebbled beach comes to seem less like a place to relax than a battleground between adverse elements. There is a sense that what happens there is fated, the line between choice and compulsion increasingly blurred. We watch from across the waves like a crew about to sail away, with or without them.

Reviewed on: 01 Nov 2023
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After stealing a priceless painting, three men arrive at a secluded safe house by the sea to discover their fourth accomplice missing. Was one of them responsible, or is there a more sinister presence lurking at the water's edge?

Director: Samuel Clemens

Writer: Samuel Clemens

Starring: Lara Lemon, Corrinne Wicks, Michelangelo Fortuzzi, Sandrine Salyères, Lily Catalifo

Year: 2024

Country: UK

Festivals:

Frightfest 2023

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