Tuesday, 18 October 2016

In a dark place (3 Stars)

This month I've been interweaving two film marathons. On the one hand I'm watching 31 horror films as a Halloween Horror Challenge, or whatever it's called. I'm not sure of the official title, but a few people, including one of my friends, are also doing it. The horror films are my priority, because October is only once a year. On the other hand I started a Leelee Sobieski marathon earlier this year, which I've been stopping and starting all year, mostly due to personal changes in my life disrupting my film watching schedule, but I'm determined to finish by the end of next month. "In a dark place" is a film where the two marathons meet. It's Leelee Sobieski's 19th film, made in 2006, but it's also a horror film, making it the 18th film in my October Halloween Challenge.

"In a dark place" is a ghost story based on the short story "Turn of the Screw", written in 1898 by Henry James. The film takes place in modern day England. At least, I presume it's set in England, which is where the original story took place. Everyone speaks English, but it was filmed in Luxemburg, and there are brief glimpses of cars with Luxemburg license plates.

Leelee Sobieski plays Anna Veigh, an art teacher in a junior school. She considers her work to be art therapy, which is what she studied at university, but the school's headmaster disagrees and encourages her to leave. He recommends her for a job as a children's nanny looking after the nephew and niece of a friend of his, Mr. Laing.

Mr. Laing is the owner of a large international company. Due to a plane crash in which both parents died he has become the legal guardian of two children, Miles (10) and Flora (8). Miles is in a boarding school while Flora is being educated at home. Soon after arriving at the mansion where the children live, supposedly in Essex, Miles is expelled from the boarding school and sent home. The reason for the expulsion isn't disclosed, despite Anna's attempts to find out, but it's the third boarding school that has expelled him, so she assumes that something is wrong.

Apart from Anna and the children only Miss Grose, the housekeeper, lives in the mansion. However, other figures are seen lurking around the grounds. Anna recognises them in photos. They are Valerie Jessel, the previous children's nanny, and Peter Quint, the gardener. Both of them died recently. Valerie drowned in the lake, and Peter, who loved her, hanged himself as a result. The two ghosts repeatedly appear and seem to be threatening the children. At times the children even seem to be possessed by the ghosts.

There's an ambiguity in the novel which has been debated by literary critics who haven't been able to reach a consensus. I shan't say what it's about, because that would involve giving spoilers about the film's ending. All I shall say is that the film sides with the non-literal meaning. A previous film adaptation, "The Innocents" in 1961, interprets the film's ending literally, so the two films tell the story the same way but end differently.

This is an eerie ghost story, with a slow build-up of suspense throughout the film. I found the non-literal adaptation of the book's ending disappointing. Read the book and compare it with the film to see what I mean. However, it's yet another masterful performance by Leelee Sobieski.

If you're wondering why I've included so many photos of Leelee Sobieski, look at them closely. Isn't it wonderful how expressive her face is from one scene to the next? Isn't that the mark of a truly great actress? You can click on the photos to see even more screenshots of her from this film.

In case you're wondering about the sexual stuff in this film, there are passionate kisses between Anna Veigh and Miss Grose. That brings the total to one film that contains a simulated sex scene and three films with passionate kisses. That makes the percentage of films in her career so far with sexual stuff to either 5% or 21%, depending on whether the kisses are included.

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