|A Nightmare On Elm Street|
I love a good gothic ghost story and John Boyne mostly delivers in this tale of foreboding doom.
Eliza Caine is living a simple life as a school teacher in London. Her mother lost during the birth (and subsequent death) of her little sister, Eliza has known nothing but her father’s love so it comes as a great shock when he succumbs to sudden illness. Unable to stay where she has put down roots, she accepts a position as a governess in the countryside in Norfolk.
But almost immediately, things start to occur that make Eliza think of reconsidering the choice. Even the trip to Gaudlin Hall is rife with trouble when she is nearly pushed in front of a train by an unseen presence. Her arrival at the stately but crumbling old manor home has her unable to meet or even locate the parents of the charges she is to care for, and the children themselves are bright but seemingly unusual.
As the next few days and even weeks go by, Eliza not only is still never introduced to Isabella and Eustace’s parents but no one on the property or even in the nearby town wants to discuss them. The family lawyer does his best to evade her queries and the housekeeper as well as the carriage driver keep to themselves and outright avoid bumping into her.
But some of the townsfolk eventually begin to open up and she learns of some of the depressing history of the home, including the fact that she is sixth in a line of governesses just in the last year—since an apparent tragedy struck the family. Even more alarming is that four of the five women hired have died mysteriously.
Eliza’s stay continues to be fraught with terrifying instances of violence, to the point that she knows for a fact that there is a presence in the house, and what’s worse is that there may actually be two.
I’ve had this novel sitting on my TBR pile for quite a while, and thought it was time to get to it! Set in the time of Charles Dickens, it brought everything you’d expect from a gothic tale of ghosts and mystery—from dense fog, strange children, and a creepy old mansion to a young woman trying to escape the wrath of a vengeful spirit.
That said, it did take an inordinate amount of time for the story to get going. I love a slow build up but I was halfway through before anything remotely scary happened. And scary is perhaps not the proper word, in fact. Nothing here was terribly frightening but I did still enjoy the well-written story. It had obvious shades of The Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre, that much was blatant yet welcome.
All in all it was still able to purvey a lingering sense of dread throughout, and though I did guess where the ending was headed I still enjoyed the ride.
The Children, a British horror film from some years back, is an effective yet low budget flick that gives new meaning to the phrase "bad kids", albeit was not the childrens' fault that they turned into little psychopaths.
Elaine and Jonah are traveling to her sister Chloe and her husband Robbie's to visit for the holidays. The two couples have five kids between them - one being teenager Casey from Elaine's previous relationship who isn't exactly happy to be there as she is missing a party. Notably, upon arrival one of Elaine's kids, Paulie, vomits....which his parents attribute to car sickness. Their other child Miranda seems very uneasy to be there, and makes her feelings known.
As the day rolls into evening, Chloe and Robbie's kids - Nicky and Leah - also complain of not feeling well. As Leah rolls over to sleep, she coughs up some gunk that she wipes on her pillow and we are shown that some kind of virus is quickly multiplying in the goo.
The next day, all the young children seem to be getting sick. The family cat goes missing, which of course does not bode well. At dinner the following day, Miranda suddenly has a complete hissy fit which escalates into pure mayhem and has Jonah taking her upstairs to clam her down. The rest of the kids head outside to play in the snow with Robbie. Also outside is Casey, who has spoken to her friends on the phone and has made plans for one of them to come pick her up so she can sneak off to the aforementioned party.
Things escalate tenfold from there, with the kids completely out of control and their minds apparently. There are a series of horrific events that the kids initiate, with no regard for human life let alone the fact that it is their parents that they are out to harm. It becomes a free-for-all situation in which everyone is out for themselves.
I love to pull this one out of my personal collection around the holidays. It's a fun killer-kids flick that has good performances from adults and kids alike. But don't ask me about the cat, okay?
My favorite film of 2022 was The Eternal Daughter, which incidentally I only just saw on December 31st! Written, produced and directed by Joanna Hogg, it is the intimate story of Julie Hart and her mother Rosalind. Both parts are played by the always exceptional Tilda Swinton—which may seem hard to imagine but works very effectively here.
Innkeeper Bill makes an appearance one evening as Julie is walking the dark, lonely hallways during a bout of insomnia. He offers some comfort and later, when Louis disappears he helps search for him. Turns out Louis is back in the room on Rosalind’s bed when Julie returns to the room. Bill and Julie have a chat in the drawing room, discussing both Rosalind and Bill’s wife, with whom he worked many years with at the hotel. Bill is reluctant to move on because he feels close to his wife by staying there. This helps Julie with her feelings of gloom about bringing Rosalind there.
The denouement of the film—if we can assume that the ending is actually a resolution—is like the rest of the film, a quiet but affecting act in which Swinton really does prove her acting chops are no joke. Rosalind’s birthday celebration is a deeply affecting scene, but I won’t spoil anything here.
Suffice it to say that if you’re looking for something akin The Conjuring you won’t find it here. The Eternal Daughter is a reserved and hushed piece of filmmaking, not alluding to much. The storyline is extremely sparse and Swinton carries the entire movie on her own, with just a few touches of outside influence to this tightly woven story. It has an art-house feel without being too standoffish or out of touch. I really recommend it to anyone who loves a slow-burn, impeccably acted gothic chiller.