Voice from the Stone (2017)
Starring Emilia Clarke, Marton Csokas, Caterina Murino
Directed by Eric D. Howell
WARNING: This review is full of spoilers; we suggest you not read it until after you’ve seen the movie.
Let me start this review off by right away saying that Voice from the Stone isn’t an explicit, overt horror film. In fact, the horror element is so minute that if it weren’t so fundamentally important to the story, it’d be possible to almost completely overlook it. And while I walked into this film expecting something that would send shivers up and down my spine, I will say that I wasn’t disappointed with what I left with, regardless of how different an experience I had.
The film follows Verena (Emilia Clarke), a nurse who travels to an Italian castle to try to help Jakob (Edward Dring), a young boy who has refused to speak ever since the death of his mother, Malvina (Caterina Murino), several months prior. Complicating the issue is that Jakob seemingly hears the voice of his mother when he presses his ears against the castle walls. Verena must try to help Jakob, all while dealing with his emotionally distant father, Klaus (Martin Csokas); the creepy groundskeeper Alessio (Remo Girone); and the welcoming, yet offputting Lilia (Lisa Gastoni). As Verena attempts to offer her care, mysterious events take place and reality comes into question when she finds her core beliefs shaken by phenomena she can’t explain.
Now, when I began this movie, I was expecting there to be ghosts, specters, and delightful hauntings. I wanted there to be a Gothic atmosphere that recalled the days of Hammer Horror. While I got the latter, the former was more elusive, and I began to realize what I was watching wasn’t something along the lines of The Haunting or The Woman in Black. Rather, what Voice from the Stone offers is an experience more akin to The Others, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Orphanage, films where the emotion of the story is just as important, if not more so, than the scares the film wants to offer.
Throughout the film there is a lingering melancholy from nearly every character. Obviously, Klaus and Jakob are still in pain at the loss of Malvina, but the film opens with Verena lamenting the fact that she helps children only to have to leave them, never seeing them again. In Tuscany she arrives at another gorgeous location with the knowledge that she will do her best to help a young boy so that she will ultimately leave him, continuing her own lonely journey. As she puts it, each goodbye “…is harder than the last.”
This becomes all too important in the film’s third act, when the supernatural events that the trailer promised come to fruition. At the end of the film Verena goes through the same illness that struck down Malvina. At one point Verena believes that she is being buried alive in a tomb next to Malvina’s body, a scene that pays homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.” Encased in this sarcophagus, Verena sees Malvina’s corpse come to life when she runs her hand over Verena’s body before turning back and reassuming her resting position. Verena awakens the next morning in a well-lit room on a soft bed, the experience seemingly a fever dream. However, the spirit of Malvina has been transferred to Verena, who is now the host for the deceased wife and mother.
While this may sound terrifying and strangely gruesome, almost like the ending of The Skeleton Key, it honestly doesn’t feel that way. Rather, there is something bittersweet to this revelation. Both Klaus and Jakob have their family reunited while Verena no longer has to live a life of solitude. She now has a home of her own, her lonely journey finally over. There will be no more goodbyes that she must endure.
Shot in Italy, the film uses gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Peter Simonite. His ability to capture the beauty of the castle and the surrounding areas is simply magnificent and lends so much to the character and beauty of the movie. Additionally, composer Michael Wandmacher’s score evokes the Gothic and beautiful melancholy that permeates throughout. There is grace and tenderness to the music that becomes sharp and terrifying as necessary.
Again, I wish to make it clear that this is not a horror film in the traditional sense. Yes, there are supernatural occurrences throughout, but they are not the focus. What matters most here are the emotions and struggles that each character faces under such circumstances. The final result is a film that is poetic and subtle, a slow-burn, perhaps too slow at points, that culminates in a difficult, yet compelling ending.