Two words – “Whitby” and “Carfax” – hint at what’s coming but luckily have no resonance for impoverished New York ceramics artist Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) who takes up an invitation to visit long-lost relatives in an English mansion of significant splendour. Immediately taken by her host, lord of the manor Walt (Thomas Docherty), who comes across like a Regency buck, she finds herself a surprising guest of honour for a forthcoming wedding.
Head butler Mr Fields (Sean Pertwee) and the statuesque Viktoria (Stephanie Cornelissen), another guest, are snippy but the others, a smorgasbord of three influential European families, make her welcome. A nightmare and a few things unexplained drive her into the arms of the sympathetic Walt and before she knows it, she has agreed, in jest, to marry him. “The Big Reveal” – a subject of the last two posts – is well-paced giving Evie time to react to her unexpected circumstances. Like Hide and Seek (1964) she has been led into a trap of her own making, millennial entitlement coupled with the chance to mix with the rich and famous enough to do the trick.
She, it transpires, is the bride of a very particular individual and despite her efforts to escape it will be a very red wedding.
If there had been no mention of Whitby and Carfax – and I don’t remember anything in the trailer – I would have been completely unprepared for what followed, at least in the vampiric context, for the other goings-on did not tilt the viewer in that direction. The romance was refreshingly modern, with various reversals, including Evie standing up for menials who had fallen foul of the butler, and for herself against belittlement by Viktoria.
The ice-house, a mainstay of such buildings prior to refrigeration, also turns out to be fit for purpose and in another twist Walt favours the harem approach to marriage.
Considerably less savage than your modern horror picture, and definitely a shade more romantic, I can see why it would go down poorly with the modern horror cognoscenti but I felt it was very well directed, much more in the classic tradition of pacing, character development and twist. And it has an excellent ending that I suspect might kick-start a sequel.
Nathalie Emmanuel – best known from a stint in Game of Thrones and F9: The Fast Saga (2021) – will surely be elevated to stardom after her first leading role. A big-screen natural, she carries the picture effortlessly, and even though effectively playing the innocent abroad, there are few moments where the character is out of her depth, tribute to her innate acting skills. This could have gone wrong in so many ways, but her performance evokes natural sympathy while at the same time you would not make the mistake of pitying her.
A bright future also awaits Thomas Doherty (High Strung Free Dance, 2018) who carries off his role with style and except until necessary does not hint at the real character underneath the charm. Sean Pertwee (The Reckoning, 2020) shows he can glower with the best of them but Stephanie Corneliussen, in her movie debut, makes an excellent queen bitch and her whimpering sidekick Alana Boden (Uncharted, 2022) proves anyone can turn nasty given the right amount of prodding.
Big shout out to Scottish actress Carol Ann Crawford – better known as the dialect coach for Outlander – as the maid who sets Evie right. I do believe I was at university with her.
Director Jessica M. Thompson (The Light of the Moon, 2017) does an excellent job of keeping a tight rein on proceedings and even when all hell is about to break loose ensures that the ensuing havoc is carried out with some style. Blair Butler (Polaroid, 2019) knocked out the screenplay.
My only gripe is that Emmanuel and Doherty make such a fine couple – with the kind of screen charisma that is in short supply these days – it was a shame that the story had to take a turn into horror rather than continue (forgive the pun) in the romantic vein.