I adore a good atmospheric story. Great scenery can sometimes help the viewer forgive a multitude of sins in a film. But atmosphere only takes a film so far, and the story still must sustain the finished product. The story in Fionn and Toby Watt’s new film, Playhouse, almost holds the tension and dread it needs to get to the finish.
In a remote Scottish castle, an irreverent writer faces terrifying consequences when his daughter falls prey to an evil curse lurking within the walls.
At the start of Playhouse, eccentric writer Jack Travis (William Holstead: The Burying Party) and Bee Travis (Grace Courtney: Holby City TV series) move into a dreadful, spooky remote Scottish castle. The castle, we come to learn, has a terrible past. Don’t they all? This only enflames Jack’s already overactive imagination, and he goes from room to room, acting as though he is a character in one of his plays.
His daughter Bee, on the other hand, is more the weirdo shrinking violet type, and is only befriended by couple Jenny and Callum Andrews (Helen Mackay: Such is Life and James Rottger: The Break TV Series) who live in a nearby cottage. Their connection to the castle is soon revealed.
For the most part, Playhouse lives up to the wonderfully dreary, moody expectations the landscape promises. But after a while, the plot starts to tire, and Holstead’s over-the-top performance starts to wear a little thin. Although I give him credit for really sinking his teeth into this role, which his does with gusto. The performance holding the film together for me is the gutsy and steely Helen Mackay as Jenny Andrews. Story wise, the film is solid for the first half of the tale, but then starts dropping a few too many red herrings for my liking, losing its steam halfway through. By the time I reached the end, much of the drama and anticipation were gone for me. And as a side note: would someone teach Jenny to use a sledgehammer, for heaven’s sake?
For a first feature film, this is pretty sensational start. With time and experience, these two directors will only get better. Despite any flaws it may have, the scenery and the performance of Helen MacKay alone make me recommend Playhouse to anyone who enjoys a good gothic film.