It was with eager grasping claws that I tore open the package from Hex Media that the postman had shoved through our letter box. Inside, lovingly wrapped in black tissue paper garnished with a wee feather was my long awaited copy of Lord of Tears, the debut feature from Scottish director Lawrie Brewster’s Hex Media.
Ripping the packaging asunder, I unfolded the beautifully designed gatefold sleeve (like a tiny prog-rock double album) to uncover the DVD of the movie, soundtrack CD and a rather nice 24 page colour book. So without further ado what’s the film like?
When his estranged mother dies James Findley (Euan Douglas) inherits the Baldurrock Estate, a large house in the Scottish Highlands. Now, James is haunted by strange recurring dreams that feature a strange entity with the body of a man, long bloody claws and the head of an owl, so believing this nightmare to be connected to some kind of suppressed childhood memory associated with the old family home he packs his case and heads for the station.
When James arrives he runs into the only other Baldurrock resident, Evie (Alexandra Hulme) a cute American with a taste for vintage outfits. As their relationship develops the nightmares grow worse and the Owlman (voiced by David Schofield) begins to invade James’s waking life. Baldurrock holds a dark and ancient secret that takes James to the brink of madness and saying any more would spoil the plot.
For anyone who enjoys an old style shocker, this is a great movie in the mould of Jack Clayton’s The Innocents or Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Brewster maintains the tension throughout the slowburn of the film’s first half and builds with small reveals of Owly intercut with other recurring elements of James’s nightmares. Tight sound and visual editing combine with the musical score, by Andy MacDonald and Craig Sutherland, to keep this going as the film rushes to its conclusion. By the time I arrived there my heart was literally in my throat!
Together with the film’s writer Sarah Daly (also known as the musician Metaphorest), Brewster has researched a background that draws on ancient Middle Eastern religions, weird literature and the Gaelic tradition to create a mythology to explain a truly terrifying monster. The camera work is simply stunning, capturing the primal beauty of the Scottish Highlands one moment then descending into the cloying claustrophobia of Baldurrock’s interiors the next.
Brewster’s intention was to get away from modern camera technique and recreate the sort of rich fixed position camera work used by Hammer and their contemporaries in the 1950s and 60s and he largely succeeds in this when framing of the actors against their background, but there are also elements co-opted from recent Japanese ghost movies that make the haunting all the more scary.
This is a very different kind of horror movie made by a small family of film makers, just like the Hammer family of the 50s, 60s and 70s that would probably never have been green-lighted by the accountants and marketing men of the studio system. Lord of Tears has clearly been crafted with love and enthusiasm by people who just love the genre and I look forward to Lawrie and Co’s next venture The Unkindness of Ravens with keen anticipation.
I give it a big 666/666.
For your extra reading and viewing pleasure.
The Ghost Stories of MR James: Let’s face it, no one does chills better than James. It’s more what he leaves out of ghostly stories like The Mezzotint or Casting the Runes, that will have you leaving the light on at night, than what goes in!
The Wicker Man (1973): Devout Christian copper Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) investigates the disappearance of a child on the remote Scottish island of Summerisle and finds it all a bit too pagan for his liking. A big influence on Brewster it also stars Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland (and her bum double) and Ingrid Pitt. Avoid the Nicholas Cage remake.
Don’t Look Now (1973): Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play the grieving parents of a drowned child seeking solace in a very wet Venice in Nic Roeg’s dark chiller, originally released in a double bill with The Wicker Man. Just who is the small figure in the red raincoat?
Feature by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.