A ‘dark night of the soul’ suspense psycho-drama, this low budget British movie has something of the feel of the Thriller series of the 1970s with a few touches of Play for Today. Two characters, perhaps not strangers to each other, are stuck together on a stormy night in an isolated house and alternate menacing and menaced as micro-glimpses hint at what might really be happening. The chattiness, which has a stagey feel, evokes the talk-driven TV dramas of another era – it risks seeming old-fashioned, but the rising hysteria of two people whose conversation keeps turning aggressive, with seemingly deliberate misunderstandings setting each off at times, is still an effective deviuce. It knowingly deploys old tricks like the radio news item about an escaped mental patient cut off when the power goes out, and see-saws effectively between misdirections and knowing chat about Friday the 13th and The Cabin in the Woods.
Young middle-aged Joyce (Tracy Ann Wood) is nervously alone in the house when nineteen-year-old John (Ryan Wichert) bangs on the door begging to be let in, nursing a supposed broken arm and clutching a knapsack. Screenwriter Roger Thomas and director Brian Barnes keep letting things play out as if they were glitches, then hop back and make a point of it – subtly, when John seems to light some candles using his supposedly useless hand, or weirdly, when all the power is out in the house except for the fridge light … though this is supposed to be the home Joyce shares with a husband she has inconsistent stories about, she has to search for things in drawers, doesn’t think to light a fire to warm the place up, and isn’t too sure how far they are from the nearest village … and when she sneaks a look in John’s packpack, she finds a roll of cash, someone else’s passport and a gun.
It depends on conversation more than action, with Wood especially good as a jittery, mercurial sort who chides the lad for swearing and comes over partly-maternal and partly-sexual before drawing back, appalled that the kid doesn’t know who Mrs Robinson is (though she later pooh-poohs the notion that there’s such a film as ‘The Cottage in the Woods’) and taking advantage of his injury by whacking his arm with a fire-iron (there’s a lot of business and talk with the fireplace poker). So, which of these – if either – is the escaped mental patient. There’s another actor (Robert Blackwood) in the cast, so the options are open. The low budget shows in several ways, such as the lack of an actual storm (though the film was shot during the famous Somerset floods of 2014) and a slight gingerness about damaging the furnishings when the conflict gets physical.
It has one of those endings that requires the viewer to rewind mentally and to review the fairly signposted clues, with a perhaps superfluous ‘what they really meant’ montage to spell it all out – though I suspect the penny is supposed to drop at about the mid-point, since the later stages depend on you realising things the characters aren’t willing to face up to. A tiny hint of ghost story might usefully have been played up, but the performances – especially from Wood, who gets the showier role – deliver some subtle chills.