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Letting go of someone we love is often that of a personal journey, despite perhaps the helping hands of many who offer their support. With the passing of a parent, particularly the mother, a young child might be more deeply effected, and in film, this provides the basis for a number of possibilities for dealing with grief, including exploring the unknown.
For Voice From the Stone, that death leads to a dark mystery, one housed in the creaky old homesteads and foggy landscapes that have become a mainstay in these moody stories, layering a bit of dark antiquity in this slow-burning tale. While it looks remarkably good, layered in appropriate unease, and features some effective performances, it doesn’t grip with quite the hold it should and misses opportunities to make the most of its themes.
We meet Verena (Emilia Clarke), a governess who has a history of helping children with troubling pasts, called to the home of a boy named Jakob (Edward Georg Dring), a nine-year-old child whose mother died seven months earlier and has not spoken a word since. He lives in an old stone manor that seems nearly days ways from being consumed by the very nature that surrounds it, rich with dark atmosphere, tall towers and labyrinthine grounds. His behavior has grown increasingly erratic, capped by his insistence that he can hear his mother’s voice in the stone walls of the property.
Directed by Eric D. Howell, Voice From The Stone is not a horror movie, despite the description, but rather a purposefully-paced story that is less about the spirits of a dead mother than the relationships that form in her loss. As Verena comes to be seduced by the words seemingly pour from the walls, she lets go her skepticism and more so, her inhibitions, learning that she resembles the dead woman, something that has impact on Jakob’s father Klaus (Marton Csokas), an artist who soon convinces Verena to pose nude for his latest project, a life-sized sculpture.
While the plot is compelling, and the actors do good work, there is little that drives it all forward with any momentum as the first two-thirds see Verena stumbling about in confusion, her ear pressed to a wall or a rock, as Jakob stares at her in silence and his father draws nearer. Things take a decidedly darker turn though in the last act as the whole story shifts to something altogether different from what it sets up … or so it seems.
Howell and screenwriter Andrew Shaw, working from Silvio Raffo‘s 1996 novel of the same name (Italian: La voce della pietra), have a vision and clearly are influenced by gothic horror and literature, bending to the tropes wherever possible, perhaps in homage, and in fact, the best parts of the film are its brooding, foreboding look, but there are lapses in cohesion and we never truly feel any attachment to the characters, even if they are interesting. Each are superficially deep and we are left only with visuals to add any sense of weight.
While Clarke does her best, it’s hard not to feel a little humor in watching her listen to the walls, and the attempts at period dialogue don’t quite ring with the poetry intended. Still, for fans of the genre, there might be some fun in trying to keep up with the mystery, even if there are few surprises when it all plays out.
Director(s): Eric D. Howell
Actor(s): Emilia Clarke, Marton Csokas, Caterina Murino, Edward Dring
Genre: Drama, Mystery