A young couple grieving the recent death of their daughter move to the countryside where they are haunted by their tragedy and a sinister darkness.
February 21, 2017
Keeley Hazell as Catherine Caldwell
Craig Rees as Harvey Caldwell
Barbara Nedeljakova as Sasha
Diane Ayala Goldner as Dr. Chandler
Whispers, written and directed by Tammi Sutton, is not a terrible movie. It’s also not very good. Really, it’s biggest sin is being horribly forgettable. It’s a ghost story, where all the necessary story beats fall into place, (strange noises, objects moving for no reason, secrets revealed). And that’s it. Fade out. Sometimes a generic movie can be forgiven, if it’s told well. But Whispers suffers from technical flaws as well.
The story centers around a haunted house. A young married couple, Catherine and Harvey Caldwell, (actors Keeley Hazell and Craig Rees), move in. Do I really need to tell you the rest of the plot? Have you seen any of The Amityville Horror movies? Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark? Hell, even that last ghost movie I reviewed, Dead Story? You won’t find any surprises here. Whispers is a better made movie than Dead Story, and a little better acted. By inches will I compliment thee, oh Whispers. By leagues will you fall.
The film feels like it’s in two parts, the first having a markedly different quality than the second. Horror luminary Lynn Lowry, (Shivers and the original The Crazies), appears in an exceedingly brief cameo. She’s great, no doubt about it. She plays a viperus figure from wife Catherine’s past, someone who clearly had a negative psychological impact on her in the present. Would’ve been interesting to explore that further. But no. After the opening, Lowry is gone. What a waste.
The sound in the opening is gawd awful. Things aren’t mixed properly, so a great deal of dead air accompanies the beginnings and ends of lines. The quality does improve as the film moves along, but the problem never really goes away. A white noise track as a baseline might have smoothed things over, or rather under. But we just have Gary Devon Dotson and Tim Worman’s music, which is thankfully quite good, evocative but subtle.
Cinematographer Kirk Douglas, (no, not that one), elevates the material. His work was nominated for a RIP Award, and you can see why. There are certain shots of the house itself that reminded me of Last Year at Marienbad (1961). A mannerist approach, with a tinge of the macabre. The story is set in England, and the location looks like something out of Straw Dogs. It’s spectacular atmosphere, which is what you want out of a ghost story. But in the dialogue scenes, director Sutton relies too heavily on flat angles and boring shots. It sucks out all the energy created by, say, a sweeping drone aerial. Lifetime Movies have the same problem.
The major tragedy at the heart of Whispers is the death of a child. The Caldwell’s daughter drowned, and now they’re in marriage counseling. Take a wild guess who’s the ghost. To be fair, Sutton’s script does manage to have a few surprises. It’s much appreciated, considering the territory is mind-numbingly familiar. However, the counseling scenes are sprinkled throughout, often accompanied by dissolve transitions. I would’ve preferred a flat cut, since you’re constantly confused about how much time has elapsed. But perhaps that’s the point, (spoilers).
Craig Rees does not feel very committed in the role of Harvey Caldwell. Certain looks he shoots his wife seem forced. As if Rees was given direction, but he didn’t fully embody said direction. Keeley Hazell, on the other hand, let’s it all emotionally hang out. You truly feel Catherine’s loss. Halfway through the film, we’re introduced to another couple. David and Sasha. They’re played by Ramon Estevez, (brother of Charlie and Emilio), and Barbara Nedeljakova, (Natalya from Hostel, complete with sauna reference). They are friends of the Caldwells. Although with friends like these, who needs ghosts?
Sasha is the worst. First she flaunts her body, attempting to make Catherine feel plain. Then she flaunts the fact that she’s pregnant. Having lost a child, this revelation is devastating for Catherine. There is a brief tete-a-tete, where Sasha is almost killed by the unwanted poltergeist. She accuse Catherine of attempting to murder her out of jealousy. Oh, if Sasha only knew! It’s a tense moment, well played by both actors. Too bad it’s heavy-handed.
The CGI in the movie is distracting. The ghost keeps appearing in reflective surfaces, (mirrors, windows, shower doors). Rather than use clever placement of the little girl, the film goes with the much cheaper special-effects overlay. Yes, it is indeed cheaper. It also looks cheap. There is also a death involving a bathtub, where Sutton employs a bubbling water overlay rather than show the murder. On the one hand, it’s an experimental edit, à la Dog Star Man (1961). On the other hand, it deflates the tension completely. But it’s cheaper. And it looks cheap.
Whispers is fun for the horror cameos, features slick cinematography, and a few twists you’ve probably already seen before. It is currently available on DVD and VOD.