Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lie Still (2005)

aka The Haunting of #24

John Hare's (Stuart Laing) girlfriend Veronica (Nina Sosanya) has broken up with him and also seems to have kicked him out of their shared apartment for reasons never really explained to us. Since he's out of a job and more or less broke, he rents a room in a cheap and nasty looking building owned by a much too affable man (Robert Blythe).

John's new place has other drawbacks beside looking like depression central. There's the peculiar fact that, although the house is supposed to be full of other tenants, John only ever meets or hears the mad old crone from next door who likes to hint at the stuff mad old people in horror films usually hint at with an added dose of sexual harassment.

Then there's the gravestone marked "Lie Still" in the backyard (whatever will the health department say?), the nightly scratching and hammering at John's door, the disturbing faces staring at him from his TV. A man could start to think he's living in a haunted house he can't leave because he can't afford it.

Life's getting worse and worse for John, until the only thing he can think of is calling for help from his ex-girlfriend. Veronica thinks he's just having a nervous breakdown, but disappears without a trace while watching over her ex's troubled sleep. After that, John can't even leave the house anymore. All exits only ever lead him back inside.

I don't think that Lie Still is half as bad as parts of the Internet make it out to be. It is a slow, competent little ghost story, trying to put something in the style of M.R. James' ghost stories into a less academic, modern yet still decidedly British urban background while splicing its DNA with a bit of Dionaea House, and as such, it was more or less made for me.

One has to admit the film isn't completely successful at what it is trying to do, yet its director Sean Hogan does succeed more often than he doesn't. The film has a handful of scenes I found very satisfyingly creepy, even if they aren't exactly original. We're talking things like silent unmoving faces staring out of a TV in a dark and dank room or houses trapping their inhabitants by bending the laws of physics here. Things like that seldom fail to work for me, and Hogan has a certain knack for keeping these happenings low-key enough to let them speak for themselves instead of always pointing and shouting at the viewer not to miss them, something which does the film's mood a world of good.

Of course, some of the supernatural tricks are even older than the TV bit. Even for me, it is a little difficult to get even mildly excited by loud knocks on a door or the olde "figure in a photograph moves when we're not looking" bit, even when they are less classicistically realized than they are in Lie Still.

I'm also not fully convinced by Laing's acting. He's not bad in the role, but I thought he was laying it on a bit thick in some of his breakdown scenes. Of course, seeing how tolerant I usually am when it comes to overacting, it's not exactly fair to single Laing out when more than one famous scenery-chewer gets a free pass from me.

More problematic than Laing's performance is the fact that the film never truly explores the thematic connection between the state of mind of its protagonist as someone who is lost and going nowhere and his position as victim of other lost souls trapped in another version of nowhere wanting to devour him and keeping him lost. Lie Still doesn't do anything with this; I am in fact not even sure if Hogan realized that he had this theme to work with.

On a visual level, the film goes for the grey, drab and gritty look the more clever low-budget filmmaker chooses instead of piss-coloured digital filters, anchoring the supernatural and fantastic - although the fantastic here too has a certain fitting greyness about it  - in contemporary reality. It is cheap and it surely isn't beautiful, but it isn't supposed to be.

Fortunately for me, I tend to like fictional things described with the words "urban", "grey" and "ghost story", and had a good enough time with the film. People with comparable interests could do worse than keep an eye out for Lie Still.


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