Asmall but interesting study of the tricks played on us by intimations of mortality, first-time helmer Michel Ferry’s “Hauntings” makes a brave attempt to be a thrill-free thriller. Freely adapted from a Guy de Maupassant story, pic should give literary shivers to all those who appreciate a well-turned phrase, but it is likely to do most of its haunting on the fest circuit. Despite sympathetic local reviews, pic’s almost invisible local release won’t help this intelligent arthouse outing.
Shot with sober clarity in a French seaside town with a view of the distant Mont St. Michel monastery, Ferry’s tale begins with a young hiker couple who part after a lovers’ quarrel. She (Marina Golovine) quickly meets with foul play under the wheels of a phantom-like Land Rover; he (Francois Negret) is welcomed into the house of a lonely old man (John Berry) who soon turns out to be a sickly loony with a pathological fear of approaching death.
Eventually, suspicions are aroused, keyholes are peeped through, and long, literary conversations are undertaken — until the couple is reunited, but trapped, in the old fellow’s house. The technique of showing the characters’ fears while not arousing the audience’s has long worn thin when the tables are turned in a mildly surprising conclusion.
Perhaps as a reaction to his peers’ unsubtle embrace of mayhem, 32-year-old, Irish-born French helmer Ferry has elected to keep his story’s violence offscreen and to incite fright only in the minds of his characters. In this, he is well supported by his trio of button-down thesps, especially veteran Yank actor-director Berry as the old psychotic afraid of his own shadow. But the resolutely interior world of anguish and dread seems better suited to the pages of a book than the frames of a film.
Still, tech credits for the low-budgeter are admirably faithful to Ferry’s odd reserve. The misty maritime grayness of Normandy is well captured by lenser Jean Coudsi, and Alfred Schnittke’s score never lapses into fright-night strings.