Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In short: Number 13

The Cambridge historian Anderson (Greg Wise) comes to a small country bishop's seat somewhere in Britain to do some research in the church's archive.

He is soon fascinated by newly found accounts from Cromwell's times that put the local bishop at that time in a rather disturbing light. He and a mysterious foreign friend seem to have been the leaders of a witch cult. At least that's what the documents say.

Anderson's interest doesn't please the clergy too much, and they decide to disallow him further explorations of their papers, so as not to stir up things better left untouched.

The now rather exasperated historian has other problems anyway. Every night, he hears strange noises and laughter from the hotel room next to his own, noises that seem inexplicably not to come from his actual neighboring room, but from the absent 13th room of the hotel. If he'd just look a little closer, he'd also realize that his room changes its dimensions after dark.

The strange occurences surrounding Anderson come to a head when he learns that his hotel once was the house where the bishop and his mysterious friend were reputed to host their black masses.

As far as M.R. James adaptations made for UK TV go, this is one of the weaker ones, not comparable to the much better ones made in the 70s as "Ghost Stories For Christmas".

While there is no single flaw I could put my finger on and call the reason why the short film doesn't work for me at all, there is a timidness about the everything in it James' work doesn't deserve. Number 13's director Pier Wilkie makes some small attempts at modernizing the tale, but transplanting it from Denmark to Britain and putting about thirty seconds of suppressed sexuality in is neither here nor there.

What is also missing here is a an attempt at actually building the mood of the story. The only thing we get is some mediocre sound design, as if putting an echo on a little otherwise unprocessed laughter was the epitome of that craft.

Neither the ironic distance of James nor the very undistanced creepiness of the author's tales comes through here, instead everything is rather harmless and quaint, both things which don't make for a frightening or entertaining ghost story.


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