VOD Review – Micro-budget Brit horror ‘The Ferryman’ conjures an effectively unnerving atmosphere

Poster for the 2018 British horror film The Ferryman

Genre: Horror
Certificate: n/a
UK Release Date: 13th April 2018
Runtime: 76 minutes
Director: Elliott Maguire
Writer: Elliott Maguire
Starring: Nicola Holt, Garth Maunders, Shobi Rae Mclean, Pamela Ashton, Azz Mohammed, Philip Scott-Shurety
Synopsis: Following a failed suicide attempt, a young woman is visited by a supernatural entity, and anyone who is nice to her dies in gruesome fashion.

 

 

The notion of shooting a horror movie on an iPhone is soon to be a familiar one, with Steven Soderbergh taking the idea to the big screen with Unsane last month. On a smaller scale, but with his fair share of visual invention, first-time British filmmaker Elliott Maguire appears on the scene with The Ferryman – a deceptively simple horror movie that’s available now via VOD services. In many ways, that’s the right way to see this film. While Soderbergh’s claustrophobia and zany lighting was obviously at home on the silver screen, The Ferryman is far better served when you want to scare yourself silly while alone at home.

We first meet Mara (Nicola Holt) as she lives out a tedious, repetitive existence. Every day, she wakes up, makes a cup of tea, has a smoke and then spends her time in a darkened room watching home videos of memories she made with her recently deceased mother. She attempts suicide, but wakes up in hospital, whispering in heart-breaking fashion that she “can’t do anything right”. Her life is changed by the arrival of her biological father (Garth Maunders) and the titular shadowy entity (Philip Scott-Shurety), who does not seem pleased that Mara is alive.

What follows is a cat-and-mouse chase between Mara and the Ferryman, with the malevolent figure seemingly exercising an influence on the people around Mara. First, a kindly nurse steps out in front of traffic without warning and then everyone surrounding Mara begins dropping like flies in increasingly grisly circumstances. Maguire stages these set pieces with an efficient mean streak and he showcases a keen eye for accentuating the opportunities provided by budget constraints while masking the potential weaknesses.

The Ferryman initially looks to be on rather shaky ground with its performances, but both Nicola Holt and Garth Maunders improve as the movie goes on. Maunders remains capable of the occasional duff note, but Holt ultimately delivers a raw, naturalistic performance that is the perfect counterpoint to the downward spiral of paranormal madness going on around her. A selection of realistically bleak support group scenes allow her to shine and much of the slightly messy and muddled final third remains above water almost solely because of her solid performance.

This movie is most interesting as a showcase for Maguire’s low-budget invention. The inherent versatility of shooting on a phone allows for some really intriguing shots and Maguire always finds an interesting place to put his camera, with very few shots looking like a conventional movie. Most of the movie’s shortcomings are down to its low-budget rather than any lack of innovation, but the plot often feels a little basic and the villain design leaves something to be desired. As a debut for Maguire, though, and a showcase for Nicola Holt, The Ferryman has more than enough in its back pocket to deliver a steady stream of scares.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

It’s not the most polished of feature debuts and its visual style betrays its low-budget roots, but Elliott Maguire has established himself as a possible force in British genre cinema with The Ferryman. His stylistic choices are consistently interesting and he gets solid performances from his cast members.

The movie suffers from a basic plot and some occasionally ropey sound design, but many of the ingredients for a great film are present and correct.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

The Ferryman is available on VOD in the UK now. You can rent or buy it over on Vimeo.

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