Giving up her hectic career as a Wall Street stockbroker, Emma (Natalie Press) returns to the tranquillity of rural England and settles into the luxurious mansion her French husband, Henri (Mathieu Boujenah) felt strangely compelled to buy. Strange voices and visions terrify Emma at night. Her son Thomas (Miles Ronayne) starts conversing with an invisible friend. Subsequent shocking night terrors cause Emma to have a miscarriage. While Henri is preoccupied with financial troubles, Emma turns to a family friend, lawyer Charles Pollock (Hugh Bonneville) for help, and grows convinced the key to unlocking the house’s dark secret lies deep in the woods at the bottom of the garden.
The English countryside lends a pleasingly, old-fashioned feel to this British-made chiller from Anthony Hickox. Back in the days when low-budget horror films were still released theatrically, Hickox gave us cult favourites Waxwork (1988) and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), along with his best film, vampire western Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1990). Since the box-office disappointment of his remake of Prince Valiant (1997) - with future stars Stephen Moyer (True Blood) and Katherine Heigl (Gray’s Anatomy) - Hickox has stuck with made-in-Germany DTV fare, and it’s good to have him back. He brings his skill to the spooky scenes, making the most of the attractive, atmospheric mansion; magical mist-shrouded forest; and playing marvellous tricks with light. A few of Emma’s surreal visions are worthy of Un Chien Andalou, with an arresting sequence involving a seemingly living tree, but Hickox overdoses on jack-in-the-box shock cuts and dawdles in getting to the real meat of the mystery.
Scripted by Hickox, Robin Squire and Fiona Combe (based on a story by Ms. Combe), the subplots fail to involve us in the problems of wealthy stockbrokers and various beautiful yuppie folk. The filmmakers ransack an array of horror classics for their scare scenes and plot turns - the little boy with the ghostly imaginary friend (Shock (1976)); the house with a murderous past (The Amityville Horror (1979)); something scary lurking in the mirror (Repulsion (1965)); the husband with something to hide (What Lies Beneath (2000)); the homicidal maniac bursting through the door with an axe (The Shining (1980)) - but what starts as a haunted house movie slowly (and rather too slowly) turns into something else.
Knife’s Edge has the feel of a British mystery movie made in the Sixties or Seventies, delivering outrageous plot twists with a poker face. Hickox crams most of the big revelations into the hectic finale and criminally wastes Joan Plowright, as the housekeeper with something to hide and lovely St. Trinian’s starlet Tamsin Egerton, as Emma’s snooping sister who abruptly disappears before the fadeout. While Natalie Press is a trifle distant as the harried heroine, Hugh Bonneville easily outshines everyone, even if this feels like a take-the-money-and-run gig for him. At the other end of the acting spectrum, Lorcan O’Toole - as Emma’s louche, drug-addled brother - embarrassingly fails to deliver a single, convincing line reading. Guy Farley’s robust orchestral score enlivens proceedings, but fails to paper over the groan-inducing “he’s still alive” bit and a regrettably abrupt ending.