I must confess that I did a double-take when I saw that Cary Elwes, whom I continue to regard as one of the truly gifted actors, attached to this ambitious yet obviously indie project written and directed by Phil Wurtzel. Elwes, a British actor whose earliest claim to fame here in the States was likely in Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights, has never quite landed the name recognition here in the U.S. that I think just about everyone expected from him after films like The Princess Bride, Men in Tights, Glory, and Days of Thunder among many others. I can still remember being just a tad shocked when Elwes showed up in 2004's Saw.
I can't deny, however, that Elwes hit a home run with his performance in Saw and I was reminded once again that a good actor can elevate just about any material.
Elwes isn't necessarily the "star" of A Haunting in Cawdor. I have no idea what drew him to the project, whether it a favor for a friend or a need to get caught up on the light bill, but I can say that even in his relatively modest appearance he once again elevates what is essentially a formulaic, predictable indie horror project that has its moments but is certainly not destined to become the next great low-budget horror project.
The film centers around Vivian Miller (Shelby Young, TV's American Horror Story), a young woman serving out the remainder of a work-release sentence at a dilapidated old barn theatre called The Cawdor Barn Theatre run by Lawrence O'Neil (Elwes), a former Broadway director reduced to managing this run down ole' place and directing stage plays featuring parolees.
It's not a good thing, ya know?
Vivian's arrival in Cawdor brings with it a seemingly connected series of terrifying events that brings Lawrence's past to the present. When Vivian views an old tape of the show they're about to undertake (Ssssh! You're not supposed to say its name!), MacBeth, an evil force is released that is a threat to everyone and everything. With the help of Roddy (Michael Welch, Twilight), a local outcast, Vivian sets out to try to identify the identity of this mysterious force before she becomes its next victim.
A Haunting in Cawdor plays out as sort of a lightweight psychological terror flick, a film that is cheesy in all the right spots with lower-budgeted production values that, for the most part, feel intentionally underdone. This isn't necessarily to say that the film looks bad, but it sort of resembles the kind of indie horror film that I used to rent on VHS and watch while curled up in a blanket on my bed.
I'd never have trouble sleeping afterwards, because they were never really that scary.
Wurtzel wrote the film while working on a documentary of Michigan's real-life Barn Theatre and, as a pretty cool bonus, ended up being able to shoot the film on location. It's an ideal location and gives the film an air of authenticity that works nicely.
Elwes, as I would hope and expect, is solid as usual here while Shelby Young nicely captures the haunted Vivian. Wurtzel wisely emphasizes dialogue over special effects and keeps the location of the film simple and straightforward.
A Haunting in Cawdor has been picked up by indie distributor Uncork'd Entertainment for a limited theatrical release starting March 11th to be followed by VOD. Fans of indie horror may want to check it out and it'll be a good film for Elwes's fans to be sure to catch.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic