Lie Still (2005)

When was the last time you watched a film that really scared you? I mean, really, really scared you – to the point where you had to go and double check that the front door really was locked, and that there really wasn’t anyone hiding under the bed or inside the wardrobe? I’m betting it was a while ago. Lately, horror movies seem to either be laughably stupid, or just gross, packed with torture as if buckets of gore and a liberal dose of misogyny could make up for the lack of scriptwriting talent. With the very, very rare exception – The Descent, for example, was terrifying – fear has been a rare commodity in horror movies. So Lie Still (or The Haunting of #24, as the DVD was re-titled for America) is a real shock to the system.

Unsettling from the very outset, the film carefully layers on tension over generous dollops of creepiness - and then chucks in some more tension and creepiness for good measure - until you're too scared to go to bed. Or to the bathroom. Or to turn out the lights.

It's brilliant.

Granted, haunted house stories aren’t anything new, but it’s been a long time since the trope has been used to any great effect. Usually, you just get slapped with a standard-issue soggy dead girl story. There’s none of that here. Without giving too much away, the plot follows John - unemployed, newly single, and desperately low on cash – as he reluctantly moves into a run-down bedsit as a temporary measure while he sorts his life out. Unfortunately, his new neighbours are about as undesirable as you can get, and the landlord - well, there's just something a bit off about him. (I can't put my finger on it, but I think it's the curly hair.) Before long, John is being thoroughly terrorised - and, worse, starting to lose his grip on reality...

Saying much more would give too much away and lessen the impact of the film for anyone who might want to watch it. And while I don't mind ruining rubbish films, spoiling something like this would just be cruel. Suffice it to say, there are moments that recall M. R. James, The Shining, and Kairo, amongst other things. The big scares work; the smaller ones, the subtle background touches, work even better. And everything looks fantastic. Ambitious camera shots and weird angles are pulled off so effectively that they look easy; the cinematography is accomplished, every shot set up and framed perfectly. The house is great, too; properly scary-looking, with dark walls and endless corridors, and the villain of the piece is perfectly cast. Most low budget productions, particularly British ones, are damaged by sub-par actors – thankfully, that’s not the case here. While there’s no-one hugely famous on the credits, the two leads are recognisable from real TV programmes, and the acting is uniformly great.

Even the soundtrack is bang-on, quietly and unobtrusively racking up the eeriness in all the right places. The only criticism I can possibly bring myself to make is that it possibly goes on a tiny fraction of a smidgen too long; it’s possible the impact of the ending would have been greater if the credits had abruptly rolled at the very climax of the story, without the neatly rounded-off scene that follows. (I’d be tempted to bump the scene where another new tenant moves into the fateful house to a post-credits scene, but that’s just me.)

If you thought 1408 was a let-down - and let's face it, it was - then track this down instead. You won't be disappointed.

IMDB link

5 comments:

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

How does one get to see this film? It doesn't appear to be available on DVD yet or am I missing something?

Sarah Dobbs said...

You might have to import it. Amazon Marketplace has quite a few under the US title of "The Haunting of #24."

(And I just checked eBay and there are a couple there, too.)

Lucy said...

Sorry, did you just say something was BRILLIANT? Brain melting. Cannot. Compute.

Gonna have to get me this film!

Sarah Dobbs said...

I'm worried now, in case I've over-hyped it. I went in expecting... well, not much, to be honest. I had no idea what it would be like.

And then it went and pushed all my screaming ab-dabs buttons. ;)