Let's face it: The gothic ghost story has been done to death. And it's really quite the perfect genre for low-budget filmmakers — just find a big old mansion to shoot in, cast a couple of actors to rattle around in it, toss in a couple of boo-scares, and viola! You've made a movie.
Fortunately, the filmmakers behind Knife Edge cared a little more than that. Even though it's yet another spooky-abode-harboring-secrets routine mystery, it's well-cast, nicely shot, and beautifully directed by Anthony Hickox (he did an old favorite of mine Waxwork, and I can't wait to see what he does with his upcoming slasher, Catwalk — it's all about the cutthroat world of high fashion and is co-written by another of my faves, Peter Atkins).
Feeling like a 70s giallo with a twist of horror, our imperiled newlyweds definitely would have been played by Julie Christie and Louis Jourdan back in the day. But now stepping into those doomed roles are Natalie Press as no-nonsense British stockbroker Emma, and Matthieu Boujenah as oh-so-Frahnch millionaire, Henri. The couple have just married and at the center is Emma's vulnerable young son, the adorable and precocious little Thomas (Miles Ronayne). The happy trio movie into a huge, sprawling mansion big enough for a royal family, only to find… cue the dramatic music… it's already occupied! Soon, their happiness disintegrates and Emma finds herself increasingly isolated and afraid.
There's nothing new here, but I did enjoy the overt suspense and the twists and turns which are meant to keep the viewer guessing whether there are supernatural forces in play, or simply greedy, unscrupulous, and all-too-mortal forces at work. If they are ghosts, are they the murder victims who met their demise behind the stately façade of the magnificent manor? If it's someone trying to drive poor Emma to an early grave, is it Henri? Or could it be her ne'er do well, always-broke brother Andrew (Lorcan O'Toole)? Or maybe it's an angry local, who doesn't want to see the long unoccupied house make new memories. Could there be a Satanic cult behind the scares? These questions are all posed, as is the old tried-and-true, "She's mad!" theory, complete with freaky nightmare images straight out of Freud 101 (personally, I loved the striking imagery of an old, black, leafless tree on fire in the snow and the recurring nightmare of a bloodied bathtub).
On the minus side, while Press is a competent actor, she is completely miscast. It would have helped if her rakish "brother" and her glamazon "sister" looked anything at all like her, or if Henri had been a little less dashing. She just seems a little too mousy and straight-laced to be so big-city successful and to have attracted so much male attention.
The peripheral cast fares better. Joan Plowright is appropriately shadowy as the housekeeper who knows more than she's letting on, and Hugh Bonneville is menacing as the mysterious old friend from Emma's past.
While Knife Edge does have the creaky feel of a 1970s made-for-TV movie, I still liked it. It's got some punch thanks to Hickox, as well as some snazzy visuals ranging from things as big as the haunted house to details as small as creepy little dolls.
= = =
Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson