A pleasingly traditional gothic mystery. Reclusive composer Richard Marlowe (Rutger Hauer) immolates himself and leaves his estate – including copyrights on his music – to his long-estranged daughter Rose (Freya Tingley), a rising concert violinist. She leaves for his eerie old estate in France, and her manager Charles (Simon Abkarian) – who has his own reasons for wanting to stay involved in her career and this sudden legacy – investigates the circumstances of Marlowe’s near-disappearance years ago. In the empty mansion, Rose is troubled by minor apparitions – some reminiscent of the ghost kids from M.R. James’ ‘Lost Hearts’ – and discovers her father’s last work, a sonata whose staves contain mystic sigils that turn out to be codes for interpreting the score (a symbol relating to a mirror means that a passage should be played backwards, etc). As she puzzles it out, influenced from beyond the grave, it becomes apparent that there’s a darker purpose, involving a Lovecraftian fissure of space and time, to the dead man’s wish that his sonata be performed.
Shot mostly in Latvia, this is a first feature from director Andrew Desmond – who also co-wrote with Arthur Motin – and confident in its use of classical genre material. Like a few other recent gothics (Voice From the Stone, Elizabeth Harvest), it foregrounds an unusual, interesting female protagonist who finds herself exploring an old dark house dominated by a sinister, often-absent male and reaches conclusions about her own dark origins. Tingley, who has had regular roles on Hemlock Grove and Once Upon a Time, is appealingly fragile as Rose, later showing a ruthless, art-before-everything streak that hints she’s inherited more of her strange father’s character than she lets on. Abkarian’s ex-drunk small-time agent, afraid of losing his main client but also genuinely concerned for her personal and professional well-being, is a usefully complicated secondary character, always judged against the apparently monstrous dead father. Hauer, in one of his final roles, is barely glimpsed as a presence, but his portrait dominates the main hall of his castle-like estate.
It’s a small, novelettish story – owing more to literary forebears (like Lovecraft’s ‘The Music of Erich Zann’ or J. Meade Falkner’s The Lost Stradivarius than to gothic revival movies like Crimson Peak – well-told, with hints of cosmic horror and a great deal of likeably shivery haunted house atmosphere.