When was the last time a movie got under your skin? Really unnerved you to the point that afterwards, you had to walk around the block or hug your dog? That’s the feeling that Lawrie Brewster’s Lord of Tears left me with. The Scottish film blends the classic Hammer sensibilities with strong storytelling and an atmosphere of thick dread not easily shaken off after it’s over. It’s a throwback horror film and I mean that in the best way possible – Lord of Tears relies on ambiance and shadows to frighten the audience, rather than gore that can be laughed away seconds later. The goal of the filmmakers was to create something different while paying homage to intellectual horror films of yore. The result is something genuinely special.
After the death of his mother, a bookish school teacher named James (Euan Douglas) inherits his family’s estate in Baldurrock. Strangely enough, although she bequeathed it to him, she asks that he never go there. James hasn’t been to the house since he was a child, when events took place that his memory has since repressed. Hoping to make sense of his mother’s request, James moves into Baldurrock House. There he begins to experience recurring nightmares of a man with a giant owl’s head and enormous talons. The owl speaks in esoteric riddles and rhyme – but is he trying to help James, or lead him to his destruction?
Many of the sequences in Lord of Tears could be James’ nightmares or waking hallucinations. The lines between dreams and reality are blurred early on in the film thanks to various bursts of frenetic imagery – often disturbing and cryptic. These repeated images act as clues to Lord of Tears‘ mysteries, such as what happened to James at Baldurrock House as a child, the Owl Man’s intentions, and who the hell Eve is.
Ahhh, Eve. Played by the beautiful Alexandra Hulme, Eve is James’ outgoing, flirty neighbor. She’s one of the most likable characters I’ve come across in a while – although from the get-go there’s something off about her. As James digs deeper into the history of Baldurrock House, Eve becomes very close to him. She even begins to appear in James’ dreams as well. These dreams are much more pleasant than the ones featuring Owl Man, as you can imagine.
The film’s low-budget is given a tremendous boost thanks to the creepy old mansion in the Scottish Highlands where it was shot. Who needs CGI when you’re shooting in the fog-drenched landscape of Scotland? This eerie atmosphere is used to maximum effect. Even when James is inside the mansion, you can see through the windows, out into the ominous hillsides. Owl Man could be anywhere! The story, written by Sarah Daly(who also performs on the affecting soundtrack), is a classic one of a man confronting his past. This scenario is blended with ancient Pagan folklore and biblical tales to create one dark little ghost story. All of these mythological elements are cohesive as well. Brewster and Daly didn’t just throw in creepy religious imagery for the hell of it or for a cheap scare. All of the pieces fit together in Lord of Tears and Brewster’s confident directing adds much weight to the elements.
The small cast is stellar across the board, although some might confuse their theatrics for over-acting. Douglas and Hulme’s scenes together may come across as particularly overdone, but I feel like the gently exaggerated manner in which they act works really well within the film’s gothic tone and helps give it an even more throwback feel. The voice of Owl Man is done by David Schofield, a veteran British actor who’s played nefarious roles in everything from Gladiator to Pirates of the Caribbean. Hulme really nails her part and she even gets her own expressive dance sequence. I love a good, unexpected dance scene in a non-musical film. Of course, this is Lord of Tears, so Eve’s dance isn’t there for fun. It comes back in a terrifying way later on.
Fans of folk-horror, gothic romance, and owls in suits will not want to miss Lord of Tears. It’s hands down one of the most haunting and unique movies of the year. It could’ve done with some trimming, especially during a couple of the end sequences, but that’s my only complaint – and it’s a small one. It’s a low-budget supernatural throwback that maintains an unshakable sense of unease throughout until it’s shocking (and appropriate) conclusion. The ending truly sneaks up on you. By the time I realized what was about to happen, I had shifted from my couch to the floor, about two inches from the screen. This isn’t a casual watch. Lord of Tears will shake you to the core.
The film is being distributed by Brewster’s Hex Media and Dark Dunes Productions. They’re not doing any VOD release, but you can order a DVD or Blu-ray copy through the Hex Media website. It’s worth buying for the film, of course, but they also put a lot of great stuff in the package. You get a copy of the film, the soundtrack, a printed booklet detailing how you can perform your own sacrifice (really!), and a 440-page (!!!) downloadable book containing photos, illustrations, storyboards, and a production diary. The disc itself features commentary from Brewster and 40-minutes of interviews and deleted scenes.
If you make one more horror film purchase for the rest of 2013, make it Lord of Tears.