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Knife Edge
cast: Natalie Press, Matthieu Boujenah, Hugh Bonneville, Joan Plowright, and Tamsin Egerton

director: Anthony Hickox

91 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Scanbox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Max Cairnduff
Knife Edge is an intelligent and often genuinely scary horror movie. It's well directed, well acted, and relies for its scares on camerawork, lighting and implication far more than it does on gore or sudden shocks (not that it's devoid of the odd bit of gore or sudden shocks).

Emma (played by the excellent Natalie Press) is the English head of a foreign exchange trading floor in New York. She is young and extremely successful, not least because she may be mildly psychic and so able to have startlingly accurate hunches about the future. She is giving all this up however, to return to England and live with her husband Henri (played with quiet effectiveness by Matthieu Boujenah) and their young son. Henri too is wealthy and successful, with his own business, and he has a surprise for Emma for he has bought them a large and beautiful house in the countryside to live in together.

Naturally, the house appears to be haunted, and Emma and Henri's idyllic relationship becomes strained to breaking point, before the film takes us there though it spends just a few minutes establishing Emma and Henri's closeness and their mutual love for their young son, and the cast here are simply terrific. There are small glances between them, smiles, a genuine sense that these people are part of a family. That's important, because the film's going to be putting that family under terrible stress, and Press and Boujenah have to show how close Emma and Henri are if their being driven apart later is to mean anything.

Naturally, matters soon become a little stranger. Their son makes an imaginary friend called Tobias, and adopts a dirty old doll that he says Tobias gave him. Henri's business begins to fall apart, and he becomes increasingly desperate as he does not want to admit failure to Emma who has abandoned her career to live with him in England. Meanwhile, Emma starts to have terrifying visions, a car accident outside, a stabbing in the bathroom, a child locked in a trunk and hammering to be free. She becomes convinced the house is haunted, and that it is affecting Henri. Henri, despairing, in turn starts to think of how he could save his business if he could just access the trust fund Emma controls...

So far, so traditional ghost story, and indeed the film is clearly in part directly inspired by Peter Medak's film The Changeling. The thudding noises coming from an attic are as straightforward a reference to that earlier film as I can imagine. This is not, however, mere homage or pastiche. Throughout Knife Edge there is a sense of presences, of being watched, in almost every scene there is in the background a portrait, figurine, statue, pattern reminiscent of a face, sometimes merely a shadow, it is as if at all moments persons unseen are present observing all that occurs. This is remarkably effective, making for a genuinely creepy atmosphere in which it seems at any moment something may reveal itself.

As with films like The Others, this is very much a film in which there is a mounting sense of wrongness, of approaching dread. The son warns Emma that Tobias has said they should leave. Emma is drawn to an ancient tree near the house, as if it contains some secret meant for her. Emma's old friend Charles Pollock (played by Hugh Bonneville, another solid performance) seems to show an interest in her that is more than platonic and though she doesn't notice it, Henri certainly does, increasing his paranoia. The housekeeper, as is traditional, is close-mouthed (though at least friendly, which makes a pleasant change). Naturally, there is no mobile phone reception (is there ever?).

As the film progresses then, Emma is increasingly isolated. Only she receives the visions, Henri is secretive and disbelieving, her son is talking to unseen presences, and her friends save for the increasingly over-familiar Charles, are far away in London. This is a classic haunted house film, an isolated individual and the terror of the dead trying to communicate to some uncertain end. For me, this was also a welcome return to an older style of horror film, one that depends more on suspense than on violence, although admittedly the last section of the film doesn't quite live up to the rest as the mysteries of the house are revealed and Emma faces a very physical threat to her life. As ever, the monster is always scariest when off-screen.

Even with that caveat, this is an excellent horror film. The cast are uniformly on top form, the direction is in the main subtle (there is one fake made-you-jump moment admittedly, as there seems to be at least one in every horror film) and there is a wonderful use of shadow and implied presences that makes much of the film very disquieting indeed. Quality stuff... I saw a pre-release version of the film which did not come with extras on the disc, and at the time of writing I don't know what will be included in the final DVD release.

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