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Voice From the Stone (Movie Review)

Voice From the Stone (Movie Review)
04.29.2017by: Jake Dee
6 10

PLOT: When a gifted English nurse (Emilia Clarke) is dispatched to Italy to aide a young boy after the death of his mother, eerie phenomena occur that suggest her spirit still lingers.

REVIEW: Working his way up to a feature debut after a handful of short films, longtime stuntman-cum-director Eric D. Howell has opted to echo VOICE FROM THE STONE in his initial tale of terror – reverberating such as a slowly-simmered, elegantly photographed rattler bound to appeal more to fervid followers of Gothic Victorian-era horror than anyone else. Adapted from the Silvio Raffo novel by fellow feature first-timer Andrew Shaw, this wistfully benevolent quasi-possession piece plays more as a mysterious romantic imbroglio than an outright fright-filled spook-fest. Which is fine. Though not without the requisite valleys of stolidity often felt with a first-time feature, the convincing performances, foreboding atmosphere and beauteously framed, angled, composed and lit imagery is strong enough to, just barely, recommend romancing the stone!

A fog-drenched Tuscan countryside, the 1950s. Narrating her own tale in the third person, Verena (Emilia Clarke) is a gifted British nurse assigned to tend to a grief-stricken young boy named Jakob (Edward Dring). The young boy, at the behest of his dying mother Malvina (Caterina Murino), has not spoken in seven months and sixteen days. Malvina not only implored the young boy to remain silent after her death, but also assured him that another woman would come one day, perhaps to take her place. “Let the words you speak be the words that call me back to you, promise me” she pleads. Jakob obeys, much to the chagrin of his father Klaus (Marton Csokas), who can’t figure out why his son his acting so bizarrely. Verena is sought to unlock the boy’s words, or, at the very least, understand why Jakob has taken such an eerie vow of quietude. The two begin spending time together. Verena watches over Jakob, ensures he doesn’t harm himself, which he often appears to be on the precipice of, nearly drowning, perching atop a castle, etc. Question is, if Jakob only intends to physically harm himself, why does it slowly but assuredly seem Verna is unraveling psychologically?

You can probably guess why, but a visit to the titular “Stone” provides some answers. The term refers to the family grave – a giant, ornate crypt carved from stone – that houses the deceased remains going back four decades. It’s in this subterranean lair that Peter Simonite’s lushly fastidious cinematography shines through – naturally diffused candlelight, lanterns, chandelier-bulbs and the like reflect gorgeously in contrast to the grey daylight fogginess and autumnal overhead estate shots. Really, the look and feel of this movie, dripping with atmosphere, is among its incontestable strong suits. Hell, even the way in which Emilia Clarke’s supple nude bosom is framed and lit looks like the goddamn Botticelli! I just wish the story was as engrossing as the visual aesthetic. Not to give it all away, but by the halfway point or so, it becomes quite clear that Verena is the subject of a sort of benign usurpation of spirit. Malvina’s. But it’s never done to a malefic effect, and certainly not a violent one. The only malfeasance here is due to Verena’s unwitting transformation, the preordained trickery she isn’t privy to.

It’s a wrinkle I admire, even if not wholly entertained by. How often are possession pieces as romantic and nonviolent as this? Next to never. So from an originality standpoint, VOICE FROM THE STONE has a lot in its favor. It just isn’t very scary. Moodily atmospheric, yes, but it isn’t terribly frightening by basic horror movie standards. The most damming element though is the languorous pacing of the story and the eventless ennui that befouls the entire endeavor. Very little happens for long stretches of the film, which will no doubt draw ire from impatient ADD horror heads with a need-it-now microwave frequency. Here it’s all about slowly mounting tension, tightening the mystery, drawing one in to the unknowingly blurring spirit and mental state of Verena. It works well for awhile, but once the story’s hand is tipped around the midway point, it tends to grow a bit tiresome. Thankfully Emilia Clarke, the English ingénue and breakout Game of Thrones star, has enough allure and acting talent to carry the film for as long as she can.

In playback, VOICE FROM THE STONE succeeds as a sumptuously shot, believably performed exercise in Gothic romance. While the sluggish temporal crawl is used to effectively mount a palpable mood and sense of impending dread early on, it also tends to undo the overall momentum of the film once its plot machinations become clear. The languid pace and corresponding dull spots are hard to overlook, even when distracted by the dazzling imagery of meticulously framed composition. Still, that the story ultimately reveals itself to be a sort of well-intentioned possession piece, a romantic overtaking of one woman’s soul on behalf of restoring the love of a family unit of three, is a standard deviation of the subgenre that is wholly welcomed. Fans of Emilia Clarke will no doubt want to see her prevail here, just as fans of Gothic Victorian-era terror will want to see how the movie fares against the rest. Even if you’re not entrenched in either camp, there’s still enough all around merit to give VOICE FROM THE STONE a resounding look and listen!

Extra Tidbit: VOICE FROM THE STONE hits select theaters Friday, April 28th.
Source: AITH

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