Voice from the Stone Review: Emilia Clarke gives a solid performance in this beautifully-crafted romantic horror film
If you’re a fan of Roger Corman‘s first few entries in his classic series of ’60s films based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, you know that writer Richard Matheson was fond of marrying those opulent tales of dread with Henry James’ influential ghost story The Turn of the Screw. In 1960’s House of Usher, 1961’s Pit and the Pendulum and in the “Morella” segment of 1962’s Tales of Terror, a hero would travel for whatever reason to an impossible Gothic European manor or castle, nestled in the middle of nowhere and soon be swept up in a supernatural psychodrama of some sort. And it was true that — especially in regards to Usher — like in the James tale (and the film version, 1961’s The Innocents), it wasn’t the twists of plot that left viewers spellbound, it was the remarkable way in which Corman and production designer Daniel Haller created an immersive, haunted world, where every creak and whisper hit the nerves like a dagger.
Stuntman and pyro FX artist-turned-director Eric D. Howell’s delicate new ghost story Voice from the Stone (based on the novel by Italian writer Silvio Raffo), similarly mines that Corman/James marriage and ladles on plenty of creamy pulp paperback intrigue, creating a distinctly feminine fright movie that is more in love with baroque architecture, swirling mists, broken statues, intricately-designed costumes and suffocating supernatural mystery than it is jump scares or genre cliches. It’s a beautiful horror movie, truly, one made for patient grown-ups and with every technical element refined and buffed to a high gloss.
Game of Thrones‘ Dragon Queen Emilia Clarke doffs her platinum wig and dials down her amazonian warrior act to play Verena, a gifted teacher and nurse who, like a non-fantastical Mary Poppins, drifts in and out of the lives of a myriad European families, assisting children in need and drawing the previously-fractured units together. And though her young wards are devastated when she checks out to go to her next gig, Verena never takes it personally. She walks away and doesn’t look back. Work is work.
One day she’s summoned to the estate of a widow (Marton Csokas) and his young son in the Tuscany countryside and, as she wades through the dense fog surrounding the home, she immediately feels something is off. So do we, but Peter Simonite’s handsome photography makes every image a masterpiece worthy of framing, so we don’t mind much. Turns out the boy hasn’t uttered a word since the death of his mother and the grieving patriarch is so shell shocked by his loss, he hasn’t had the energy or ability to reach him. But Verena is up for the challenge, gently bonding with the mute boy, day by day. But when first the boy, then Verena, hears harsh whispers coming from behind a stone wall of the house, Verena becomes convinced the dead woman is haunting the house and that somehow she is slowly, surely becoming the mother.
Voice from the Stone is a gorgeous bauble of a chiller, with a sensual, minimalist cello and piano-based score by Michael Wandmacher (Underworld Blood Wars) that aids in building an ambiguous, romantic and melancholy world for the emotionally-troubled characters to inhabit. The cast is just as on point, with Clarke reveling in her role, playing a woman who unlocks both her sexuality and primal maternal instinct in the face of the arcane; and she’s matched by Csokas’ work as the broken husband who becomes smitten by the new woman in his home and Italian genre film legend Lisa Gastoni (War of the Planets) who creeps around the peripheral as the steely, elderly matron who passive aggressively steers Verena more and more to accepting the fact that she’s “becoming” someone else.
Not for horror fans seeking a quick in and out, Voice from the Stone is a slow burning, absorbing and carefully-crafted Gothic gem. With its rich cinematography, bodice-heaving sensuality and grandiose sense of decay, it’s a film admirers of this sort of thing will want to eat, slowly… so slowly, savoring every shivery second.
Voice from the Stone opens in theaters, VOD and Digital HD on April 28th from Momentum Pictures