Week 10 of the Soho Horror Film Festival is in the books, and with the theme of “National Healthcare System,” we were brought two horror films of extremely different subgenres. In tonight’s first film Bright Hill Road, real-life themes of addiction, guilt, and grief build an atmosphere of dread and remorse while the late film, Cyst, displayed a much lighter tone. As always, our features were introduced by appropriately themed shorts. Nightingale displays an eerie and ominous tone on par with Bright Hill Road.
The Netherlands-based film Nightingale tells the story of an overworked retirement home nurse (Nina Fokker) who is being stalked by an unseen person. The film is given the giallo angle in only making the viewer aware of the assailant through cloudy panes of glass and heavy breathing from a first-person perspective. The finale of the short delivers an interesting twist as the Nightingale Pledge is abandoned in a place harboring a monstrous secret. Jasper de Bruin’s Nightingale provides a fun twist, especially given the implicit trust we grant our health care professionals over our own care and the care of our loved ones.
In the night’s first feature, Bright Hill Road, Siobhan Williams plays alcohol-addicted Marcy who witnesses an assault on her workplace by a disgruntled ex-employee. It is evident that she was drinking while on the job, and Marcy failed to report the man’s repeated threats after being let go and subsequently is put on a leave of absence. The violent images of the day rack Marcy with guilt, and she begins to spiral toward depression but decides that she’ll take her sister up on an offer to stay with her for a few weeks. Marcy packs a bag and leaves in the middle of the night, and in the morning she finds herself outside of a boarding house with the proprietor, Mrs. Inman (Agam Darshi) knocking on her car window.
Of course, once Marcy enters the boarding house, things become twisted and deranged. Bottles of wine seem to magically appear in front of her, tempting her to indulge and stray. The boarding house is vacant and strange, yet the owner speaks like she’s running a full house, occasionally appearing in places to offer help. From the start, she changes an old saying to, “the mirror is the window to the soul,” as a haunting clue of unheeded guidance to Marcy. As days go by and Marcy tries to check out of the boarding house it becomes difficult for her to do so, as if the light outside is burning into Marcy’s retinas every time she opens the door.
There has become this real trend in hotel horror that you need to abide by the “Hotel California” song lyric, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” I often watch films that mistreat the lyric’s interpretation for horror-driven consequences, without realizing why The Eagles even wrote it. Don Felder, Glen Frey, and Don Henley were writing about excessive indulgence, addiction, and self-destruction. Though I feel like the lyric often gets mixed up in films that are simply trying to teach people a lesson, Bright Hill Road uses it to the intended effect as the audience watches Marcy try to overcome her addiction by herself.
As an allegory to intense addiction, Bright Hill Road is fantastically realized. Marcy’s character feels like she’s in crisis as she strives to maintain her sobriety while being constantly bombarded by temptation and giving in at times. Williams’ portrayal is sensational thanks to the complexity Susie Moloney’s script delivers to Marcy’s backstory. The anniversary of her father’s death in a house fire she may have caused combined with that of the attack at her office despairingly puts her at the mercy of her addiction. The problem is that the message comes through mixed as the twelve steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program are woven into the horror plotline, creating a slightly overbearing religious aspect when God becomes a key component in Marcy’s recovery. The AA steps also become more apparent with the arrival of Owen (Michael Eklund).
I am a big fan of Michael Eklund. I can’t think of another actor that has taken more detestable film roles while maintaining an air of likeability in their characters to the point you can’t wait for the presence of their divisive menace to be back on screen. As Owen, Eklund is both captivating and creepy, beginning by intruding on Marcy’s privacy but eventually morphing into something darker, something Marcy is frightened of becoming.
Bright Hill Road is an impressive effort by director Robert Cuffley that displays a lot of promise but ultimately comes up short of its intention. The impressive work from Williams and Eklund definitely helps elevate this mostly predictable horror drama into great levels of entertainment, at times delivering the kind of dread accomplished by The Innkeepers or The Others. In the end, however, the film just gives off a feeling of neutrality offering no real surprise, becoming unsatisfying by way of simple admittance and acceptance.
Two weeks remain for Soho Horror Film Festival’s Shockdown Saturdays, with Frederico Gianotti’s Leni and the World Premiere of Sam Ashurst’s A Little More Flesh Part II (an assuredly challenging follow up given the nature of A Little More Flesh) coming this Saturday along with the Ghouls Magazine panel special event. If you’d like to be a part of the festival, all you have to do is become a member of the festival’s Facebook page and click the links in the announcements section when the films become available on Saturday. All showings are based on local time in Soho, England—check with their website and Facebook page for times (often they leave the links open until Sunday at midnight). The festival is completely free, but Soho Horror Film Festival is operating solely on viewer support donations and entirely without sponsors. So, if you like what you see, I’d strongly encourage you to support them so we can all indulge in future events.