The Secret of Crickley Hall (DVD)

I’ve got such a crick in my neck.

Based on the novel by James Herbert, The Secret of Crickley Hall is a TV miniseries that, with only three 50-minute episodes, feels more like a lengthy feature. It’s for those who like their scary movies to be a little more gut-wrenching and a little less gut-stabbing.

In the present day, the Caleigh family is in turmoil. One year earlier, their young son disappeared without a trace. With him still missing, the family must move out of London and to the country for a new job, where they’ve taken residence in Crickley Hall, an old structure that was once an orphanage. Once there, strange occurrences are seen and heard, and mom Eve (Suranne Jones, Scott & Bailey) believes these ghostly happenings can reunite her with her missing son.

In the past, with World War II on the horizon, young Nancy Linnet (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel) comes to Crickley Hall to be a teacher for the orphans. There, she uncovers a horrifying secret and puts her life on the line to help the kids.

This haunted house tale is high on drama, low on scares. If you’re OK with that, the miniseries has a lot to offer. Rather than a sense of dread or tension, this one has a heavy air of sadness throughout the whole thing. With a family still reeling from the disappearance of a child, there are a lot big tears and big freakouts—real “raw nerve” emotion. The actors manage to push the heartache as far as they can without crossing the line into overacting camp, which is good. The scene where Eve hears a ghostly voice for the first time is simply filmed, but highly effective, thanks entirely to the actress’s performance.

Before you think things get too dour, the pace picks up some when the story switches to WWII plotline, where we follow Nancy as she investigates Crickley Hall. It’s appropriate that her name is Nancy because she reminded me of Nancy Drew, the plucky girl hero solving mysteries and standing up for what’s right. I’m not clear on exactly how old Nancy is supposed to be, but actress Olivia Cooke radiates youthful innocence, which is a great boon in her connecting with the poor orphans and standing up to the big, mean adults.

Really, it’s the acting more than anything else that makes The Secret of Crickley Hall worth viewing. Other familiar faces include Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones as the Caleigh family’s oldest daughter who also gets targeted by the ghosts, and character actor David Warner (Time Bandits) as a neighbor with a connection to both timelines. The child actors manage to show a lot of vulnerability and humanity without ever coming across as overly precocious.

The jumping back and forth between timelines can get jarring at places. We switch from one era to another with a simple edit, just as if cutting to a character in another room. Because it’s the same house, sometimes when a new scene starts, you’re not sure what timeline it is. I don’t believe this was intentional on the part of the filmmakers, and it often confused the plot when it didn’t have to.

At roughly three hours, there’s quite a bit of filler that seems superfluous. We get not one but two psychics involved in investigating the house’s past, and their subplots just aren’t as interesting as Nancy or the Caleighs.

Picture quality on the disc is just fine, with vivid colors, rich browns, and deep black levels. The audio, a key ingredient in any haunted house movie, is merely stereo. It has no evident flaws, but is merely serviceable when it could have been stellar. The subtitle track is a big help for us lowbrow Americans struggling with some of thicker English accents. No extras.

The Secret of Crickley Hall is very good, but it isn’t for everyone. It puts the importance on the human drama over the supernatural scares, but doesn’t entirely skimp on the spooky stuff. Patient, attentive viewers will find a lot to enjoy, but it’s not a “Throw it on during your Halloween party” movie.

The Verdict

Not guilty, Mummy.

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