Today marks the release of the gothic supernatural drama Voice from the Stone (review), which will play in limited theaters and on VOD platforms. Directed by Eric D. Howell, the film stars Emilia Clarke as a young nurse who tries to help a boy who has been silent since the passing of his mother several months prior. The film is based upon the Italian novel La Voce Della Pietra by Silvio Raffo.
I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Howell about the film, which may not be an overtly horror offering but one that does offer a different take to the genre. We spoke about the film, the wonderfully atmospheric location, how they got Amy Lee to write the original song “Speak To Me”, and more, all of which can be read below.
Verena is a solemn nurse drawn to aid a young boy named Jakob, who has fallen silent since the untimely death of his mother nearly a year ago. Living with his father in a massive stone manor in Tuscany, Jakob not only refuses to speak, he seems to be under the spell of a malevolent force trapped within the stone walls. As Verena’s relationship with the father and son grows, she becomes ensnared and consumed by Malvina’s severe force. If she is to save the boy and free herself, she must face the phantom hidden inside the stone.
Having seen the film before its release, I started by asking Howell about why the film was marketed as a supernatural horror/thriller when, in reality, it’s more of a gothic drama with supernatural horror elements. Howell explains, “Marketers market films, filmmakers make films and they don’t always necessarily jive.” Howell doesn’t shy away from the connection to horror but he wants to make it clear that it’s from a different approach than some might think. “Very early on I read the script and said this is a love story, this is a story about loss and grief and fear and confusion and madness and love and sort of the indelible nature of love and that often goes hand in hand with fear and horror,” he tells me. “It doesn’t intend to be a horror film, it does intend to touch on those same emotions, the emotions of horror and fear, confusion and madness and it is a relationship film.”
An aspect I noticed about the film was how different the castle felt from other horror films set in similar locations. Instead of dark walls that seem wet and frigid, this castle was bright, warm, and inviting. Howell used the layout and the construction to his full advantage. “You know, we’re telling a haunting story yet we’re in a castle with bright walls and it kind of just showed a different side of Tuscany, a different kind of gothic romance that’s happening here and the exterior castle in Sienna was, you know they build these castles for light and so a lot of scheduling a day is about following the light, and it really created an organic feel, it created a very natural feel and a natural flow for us.”
He was often surprised by how perfectly the layout worked to his advantage when blocking a scene, stating:
“One of my great surprises was, we were filming inside of Jacob’s bedroom and as you know, Malvina’s portrait sits on the wall of the piano room and we’re in Malvina’s bedroom and I’m doing a profile shot of the boy and I see the poster of the mother in the background down the hall and I’m like somebody should move that, that’s just weird that they moved it to lineup, well no, the castles actually lineup perfectly like that, nobody had moved the picture at all. Because of the alignment that just happened naturally and there was so many of these things that the location would dictate to you how to shoot the scene and how to capture the mood because it was built into the architecture of how these places were designed.”
One of the biggest pushes for the film wasn’t from fans of Emilia Clarke, who is a wildly popular actress due to her role on “Game of Thrones”. Rather, it was from fans of Evanescence singer Amy Lee, who contributed the original song “Speak to Me” for the end credits. Eric spoke glowingly not only about the track but also about the experience of working with Lee, of putting everything together, and ultimately of shooting a music video to go along with the film.
“You know the pinnacle of this experience might be, there’s a lot of them, but it might be sitting at Skywalker Ranch, posting our film, finally reaching Amy and giving her a copy of the film, She watches it, calls me immediately and says, ‘Tell me what you’re thinking because I’ve got an idea’, and all I know is I want the first thing the audience to hear at the end of the film is a woman’s voice. She said, ‘That’s exactly what I think’ and hung up. A day later she sends forty five seconds of the idea of “Speak to Me” and five grown men standing around a computer crying, turning away from each other because we hear the song that perfectly encapsulates the story that we’re trying to tell.
It is a painful story and there is true sadness to it and our antagonist is not a bad person, she’s a hurt person who’s been ripped apart from her son and she’s chosen to sing the song from the perspective of the antagonist of the film. We flew her out to the ranch, she continued to write the song – we had free reign at the ranch, just gave us the piano, the sound stage and the recording engineers – and we went to town on it. Her and Michael Wandmacher, our film’s composer, went to town on it and the finished result, the producers looked at each other and said ‘We have to go back to Italy, we have to shoot [the music video] at our location and tell the story.’”
When it comes to Voice From the Stone, Howell simply wants audiences to go in with an open mind. “I feel that if people give this film an opportunity, you’re going to find a really compelling and engaging story that maybe is a little unexpected, that may be not exactly what they’ve come to expect from the straight genre material. So to be in the same category as The Others or Pans Labyrinth or any of those would be a huge blessing because that’s exactly the mentality that we’ve tried to have.”