Monday, December 24, 2012

TV Review: The Secret of Crickley Hall

The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012) directed by Joe Ahearne

For Christmas Eve, why not watch a ghost story? It's a popular tradition in England to read ghost stories on Christmas Eve, then at midnight open the door to let the ghosts out and the spirit of Christmas in.

The Secret of Crickley Hall is two ghost stories in one! The show starts with Eve, an overworked London mother who takes her young son Cam to the playground. She sits on a bench and tries to get some work done. She doses off for just a minute. When she snaps awake, no one is left in the playground. She can't find Cam anywhere. The police are brought in. They search is in vain. Naturally she blames herself for the loss and is inconsolable. Eleven months later, her husband decides to take a job in the country so Eve and his two daughters won't be around home and the playground when the anniversary of Cam's disappearance comes. They rent a very inexpensive country house, Crickley Hall.

Why is it so inexpensive? Surely you've guessed, it's haunted. The hall was used as an orphanage during World War II. The headmaster was overly strict (i.e. he used his cane far too much) and a new, young teacher stirs things up when she questions his methods. We find out that the headmaster and all the children drowned in a flash flood in 1943. The spirits are not at rest and they reach out to the troubled Eve with the promise that Cam is still alive and they know where he is. So the story of the events leading up to the flood is told with the modern mystery involving the ghosts and the missing boy.

While this story travels a lot of familiar ground (grief over a lost child, skeptical husband and believing wife, abusive orphanage situation, isolated manor house, crazy old coot warns them not to stay in the house (especially the children, THE CHILDREN!!!!), spooky sounds in the house, creepy basement with a big hole in the floor (this time, it's a well)), it doesn't feel repetitive. The characters are different enough from the standards that they are engaging and you care from them. The skeptical husband is especially interesting. Even though he's sure there's no such thing as ghosts, he sees the damage caused by the nightmares of his daughters and the increased stress of his wife. He wants to leave just for peace, not because he's afraid of ghosts. When a medium is brought in, he is very reluctant because he thinks she is a con artist. He finds out about another paranormal expert who stayed in the house and found nothing. So he tracks him down just to convince his wife. Other characters are equally well drawn.

The atmosphere is nicely creepy. The music is a bit too much at times but they do know when not to use it. The phantom children are barely seen in outline, a new way to depict ghosts. The performances are good all around and the dual story line allows for both upbeat and downbeat endings in the story (though one story line is cryptically upbeat and detached from the story).

I enjoyed watching this show, though if you are like my wife and don't like seeing children in peril, this is not for you.

The show is available as three hour-long episodes, though not on DVD as I write. It's available on iTunes or at Amazon through the link below.

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