Directed by Lawrie Brewster
Distributed by Hex Media
When his estranged mother passes away, mild-mannered school teacher James Findlay finds himself the sole proprietor of his parents’ estate, including the secluded Scottish manor, Baldurrock House, in which he grew up. Against the express wishes of a letter left behind by his mother, James decides to visit the homestead once again in order to hopefully come to terms with his past there – a past all but forgotten due to what he believes was some kind of mental breakdown as a child.
Upon arriving, James meets local housekeeper Evie, an American living at the estate with whom he enters into a burgeoning relationship. As James investigates the various personal relics left behind from his childhood, he begins to experience ever more disturbing nightmares and visions of the ‘Owlman’ – a creepy, suited spectre haunting the woods surrounding the home and sporting a giant owl’s head and elongated, clawed hands. As more memories are unearthed and James’ supernatural experiences become even more intense, he soon finds himself trapped in a living nightmare of ghostly vengeance for familial sins in the service of an ancient Pagan god.
A true Kickstarter success, having been brought to our hands by the combined efforts of horror fans and Dark Dunes Productions, Lord of Tears is a magnificent specimen of classical horror filmmaking. Taking its cues from some of the most creepy Hammer productions and now-legendary haunted house films such as ‘The Innocents’, it’s a slow-burn affair whose every frame is bathed in the dark promises of malevolence and dread. The low budget is most easily apparent in early indoor dialogue scenes, however once the action moves to Baldurrock, the native Scottish locations and superb Manor house allow the cinematography to open its all-encompassing black wings as the film folds over you with shots of grimly beautiful forests and silently threatening shadows. Debut feature director Lawrie Brewster frames some absolutely gorgeous gothic images, made all the more shiver-inducing by the presence of the super-creepy Owlman. Seriously, all that the feathered fiend needs to do is stand there or slowly point with those bark-like talons and you’ll feel it run up your spine; a first-rate display of something completely otherworldly invading our realm.
Thankfully, he doesn’t just stand and point, however, with the Owlman’s voice being provided by veteran actor David Schofield. They couldn’t have made a better choice, either, as the volume ramps up during each of his verbose monologues, drowning the room in resonant bass tones and a feeling of superlative, esoteric power. Yet, despite the promotional focus on the Owlman himself, he is more of an observer to the unfolding events at Baldurrock, seemingly restricted from intervening in a physical way himself. Though he is indeed at the very core of what has gone on at the Estate, his guidance and taunts play as more of a nudging motivation for the tortured James as he continues further down a rabbit hole from which he may not return. As James, Euan Douglas carries the film extremely well, even if still recognisably amateur in front of the lens, while Lexy Hulme brings a smouldering classical sexuality to her performance amidst more disturbing facets that come to the fore as the rug is pulled from under the pair. There’s a strange incongruity to her initial scenes, however, as her broadly American accent and theatrical deliveries seem to clash with the more subdued nature of the cinematography and Douglas himself, but this initial shock soon subsides as the absorbing nature of the story sets in.
On the topic of the story itself, it is most assuredly a simple yet effective ghost story underpinned with arcane horror. Those looking for a fast paced, in-your-face spook show would be well advised to seek their needs elsewhere as a modicum of patience is required to let Lord of Tears truly sink its claws into you. Even when it has, however, a little extra is needed as the pacing does suffer unduly because of a few over-extended sequences that lose their traction much, much sooner than they end. Their length feels over-indulgent and, at times, serves to negatively impact the generation of fear. Just a couple more minutes of trimming would have made for a more effective beast.
Atypically though, that’s probably the worst that can be said about the film! As the narrative unfolds, Brewster throws in a number of dream-like (or, rather, nightmare-like) sequences that are initially mystifying, and often mark movement to the next scene. It adds challenge to the film on first viewing, and when all is said and done it actually succeeds in tying together exceptionally well, adding a deeper layer of foreboding and hopelessness that really opens up on subsequent viewings. And you will indeed view it again – because when the base mystery has been revealed to you, it’s even better the second time.
On the actual presentation and features side of things with this release, something really does have to be said about the effort put into it by the folks at Hex Media. Rather than your standard DVD or Blu-ray clamshell, Lord of Tears comes in a beautifully constructed fold-out Digipak covered in gorgeous gothic artwork and harbouring the film disc, a CD of the film’s excellent score (complete with Owlman dialogue snippets), and a booklet detailing the stages of the ancient sacrificial rites upon which its mythology is based. It also arrives in your mailbox perfectly wrapped in black tissue paper with a single owl feather stuck on the outside. It feels exciting, yet ominous – a package that promises untold horrors to come should you dare open it – a very special little touch that feels a shame to disturb. Alas, you’re going to have to if you want to get to the good stuff inside.
On the disc, we have a selection of deleted scenes, extended interviews with director Lawrie Brewster and actor David Schofield, the film’s trailer, and a few short films including the deliriously surreal (and subsequently quite delightful) Daddylonglegs and the Black Hare. Brewster steps in to provide a commentary for the film that shows him to be an exceptionally pleasant and erudite speaker as he discusses the story and symbolism of Lord of Tears, adeptly guiding the viewer through what are, on first viewing, some of the more perplexing images of the film. Biggest of all is a downloadable book in PDF format that comes provided separately and houses writing on nearly every single facet of Lord of Tears‘ creation – from an autobiographical piece by Brewster to sections on the pre- and post-production processes, a complete daily production diary, short stories set within the film’s world, a breakdown of the mythology, an entire set of film storyboards, the complete script and even more besides. Amazing stuff through and through.
You can buy this edition of Lord of Tears directly via the Hex Media website here, and the release is also (pleasingly) region free, so can be played just fine across the globe.
4 1/2 out of 5
5 out of 5