Playhouse, Helen Mackay, William Holstead (Horror Movie Review)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: A playwright moves into a castle with a dark history, planning to write a play about the tragic events that took place in his new home. His plans are disrupted by the fact that the castle is haunted.

REVIEW: The feature writing and directorial debut of Fionn and Toby Watts (a.k.a. The Watts Brothers), the supernatural horror film PLAYHOUSE (WATCH IT HERE) is mildly intriguing throughout, but never manages to reach the level of being fully engaging, and its slow burn approach may begin to test the viewer's patience when half of the 87 minute running time has gone by and not very much has happened. If you stick around until the ending, well… there's also not a whole lot in the way of payoff, but at least you get some interesting drama along the way.

The story the Watts crafted is set entirely in and around a very cool location, a castle in the Scottish countryside that has a dark history involving a young boy being bricked up inside a wall and left to starve to death, a woman taking a tumble down a flight of stairs, a man jumping to his death from the highest window, and a deal with the devil. A playwright known for working in the horror genre moves into the castle with the intention of writing a play about the castle's history, which will then be performed for patrons as they're given a tour of the place – they'll be able to see this tragic story brought to life in the very rooms where the terrible things took place. Of course, the presence of the playwright stirs up the spirits of the people he's writing about, and he undergoes a personality change. It seems like he's becoming the man who killed that boy many decades ago. Elements of this story were pretty obviously inspired by THE SHINING, and it doesn't seem like the Watts were trying to hide that at all. They gave the playwright a name that's quite close to Jack Torrance – this character, played by William Holstead, is named Jack Travis.

Playhouse William Holstead The Watts Brothers

Jack has moved into the castle with his teenage daughter Bee (Grace Courtney), and this pair looks so close in age that I was assuming they were brother and sister right up until the moment when Bee first calls Jack "dad". Don't worry, the fact that Holstead and Courtney look more like siblings than father and daughter isn't a case of odd casting, Jack and Bee's age difference is addressed, it's an issue for the characters. Much of the first half of the film centers on Bee; her troubles with her father, her inability to fit in with her classmates, her disapproval of what Jack is doing in the castle. It seems like Bee is the main character, but then the Watts find someone else to shift focus to. You could say they lifted a bit from the PSYCHO playbook in addition to taking inspiration from THE SHINING.

The protagonist here is actually Jenny Andrews (Helen Mackay), a young woman who lives in a nearby house with her shiftless husband Callum (James Rottger). Jenny's family history is tied in with the history of the castle, and when things get weird around Jack and Bee it's Jenny who steps up to get to the bottom of what's going on. She seems like she's just going to be a supporting character when she first arrives, one that something bad is probably going to happen to, but she turns out to be a decent heroine.

Playhouse Grace Courtney Eilidh McLaughlin Mathilde Darmady The Watts Brothers

PLAYHOUSE works best if you can buy into the drama between the characters and not worry too much about the supernatural happenings. Even on the occasions when there is some kind of flashy paranormal activity, it's not very impressive. Horror fans have seen all of this before, and we've seen it in better, more exciting movies. But the actors do well with the material they were given and manage to carry the film to its underwhelming conclusion.

The best scenes here don't have anything to do with the supernatural, they're just moments where characters talk to each other. My favorite was when an acquaintance of Bee's tells the story of the castle in a way that's about as Scottish as the first name of the actress who plays the character, Eilidh McLaughlin.

Devilworks is giving PLAYHOUSE a VOD release in North America on November 17th.

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.