Premiere screening at The House of Magic - London - October 2017
Ashley Thorpe's' Borley Rectory; The Most Haunted House in England is not like anything you'll have seen before. It would be wrong to explain in detail how he achieved such an atmospheric and truly creepy film (I know some of the secrets as I was in it for about 30 seconds) I will say though that the actors are real and maybe the odd prop but nothing much else which is all the more astonishing when you get an establishing shot with such scale and poetry like a birds-eye view of the Rectory through the pouring rain; both mesmerising and heart-stopping.
It has taken Ashley a very long time to finally complete the film (6 years?) with well-marketed kick starters, professional support and when it needed it most, some great names becoming attached to the project he has something he can be really proud of. It is a masterpiece. The film started as a short and was to be under 18 minutes, that was exciting enough but then he told us all he was making it 36 minutes! Then he surprised me one night by excitedly rattling off that the film had now become 70 minutes; a 'feature-length' animated documentary epic is what it had become. I think I nearly cried - if it was to be half as good as his previous works, I thought, it could be the creepiest horror film this century and he might just blow the lid off the film world with his utterly unique style.
And my. It really is isn't half as good, it is flipping epic. Not in a sword and sandals way of course but with every piece of design choice, every soundscape and every slice of visual imagery. So beautiful is the film to look at you could pause it anywhere and frame it and hang it. This modern Gothic masterpiece has more ghosts in it you can shake a stick at but I bet you that you can't find them all, but they are there, skulking in the background, peering from the shadows, twisting in the mists and that is just the start of this chilling piece of genius. The film is insidious and it creeps up your spine like frost on a winter bough. The relaxed pace, the silences, the insistence that it not be a jump scare frightfest is why it works best as one of the creepiest films I have ever seen. It has a heart, integrity and with its cerebral narration, it unfurls like you're reading a book. In fact, the film is actually a documentary and often this can be forgotten when a scene lures you in and strokes your soul with its stillness. When the narrator, Julian Sands, cuts in and issues forth facts and dates you feel like you own your breath again and can relax.The tense moments in this film are played out so subtly that you just don't see it coming, you know, like that shadow that stretches across the room, then suddenly catches your eye only to see that it is a candle flickering and dying. Phew, just a candle then...
The acting throughout is excellent from the principle cast, Jonathan Rigby, Reece Shearsmith and Julian Sands to the extras and there wasn't any camp terrified Jon Pertwee gurning going on, everyone in the film took the subject seriously and it pays off. It is directed with a clear vision and simplicity and no scene or line seems superfluous. The film's historical vignettes peppered with fascinating information play out like the chapters of a book in visual form.Talking of books at one point we get to see an exquisitely designed pop-up book animated and even the book on which some of this film is based on by Harry Price crops up.
When I arrived at the House of Magic where the film was being screened, a sumptuous opulent abode with atmosphere seeping from its very walls, I wondered should I watch with a critical eye or should I throw myself at Ashley's mercy and just 'live' in it for 70 minutes. I had no choice, the film sucks you in and you are forced to live its pace and grace. Thank goodness I gave into the magic and I have to say It has stuck with me for two nights. I have been dreaming of ghosts and haunted houses and even getting those tingles on the back of my neck in an empty room. So as an experience it worked, as a ripping film it is a triumph and as a well-informed documentary it is perfect and to top it all off the sound design was extraordinary and the music (composed at lightning speed) was simply phenomenal. I cannot recommend this unique film highly enough. Do your self a favour though either watch it in the cinema in the complete dark (but leave the rustling popcorn outside) or even better watch it on your own, in the dark and see how far you get. Go on I dare you.
Just as an addition the Q&A was weird and fun too compered by a living magician legend Simon Drake. If you ever get a chance to visit the House of Magic you should, you won't regret it.