'A Haunting in Cawdor': Film Review

Courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment
Not much wicked this way comes.
3/11/2016

An emotionally troubled young woman gets embroiled in mysterious events surrounding an amateur production of "Macbeth."

It's not entirely accurate to say that A Haunting in Cawdor is "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," to quote Macbeth. After all, this dull, Macbeth-riffing horror film doesn't have much fury to speak of, lacking the sort of visceral scares that would attract genre fans. But it does signify nothing very much, falling far short of the smarts necessary to be of interest to Shakespeare buffs. Its best element is its evocative atmosphere, with director/screenwriter Phil Wurtzel making excellent use of a historic summer stock theater in Michigan that provides the principal setting.

The central character is Vivian (Shelby Young), a troubled twentysomething woman who's been sent to the rundown Cawdor Barn Theater to serve the final 90 days of her prison sentence. She, along with her fellow young offenders, is greeted by the no-nonsense supervisor (Charlie King) and the artistic director, Lawrence O'Neil (Cary Elwes), a Tony Award-winning Broadway director whose career has fallen on hard times.

Before you can say "something wicked this way comes," ominous events begin occurring as the young parolees are inducted into the theater's new production of the Scottish play, with its director taking very seriously the curse that accompanies speaking its title aloud in the theater. He has good reason to be wary, since a previous production of the play put on by his theater ended in tragedy. You'd think that he'd choose something else — a nice romantic comedy, perhaps — especially since when he asks his new arrivals "Who here has heard of William Shakespeare?" not a single hand is raised.

"This play is cursed, Larry!" warns a female colleague, as the camera spins around the room to reveal a mysterious hooded figure.

That apparition shows up many more times as Vivian, naturally cast as Lady Macbeth, becomes aware of the theater's dark history and attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery. Meanwhile, her concerned psychiatrist (Patrick Floch) makes a house call to warn the director about his patient's traumatic past.

Although the filmmaker attempts to ratchet up the foreboding atmosphere, very little actually happens throughout, with even a potentially horrific wood chipper accident being undercut. Similarly underwhelming are such plot elements as Vivian's burgeoning friendship with a mysterious local outcast (Michael Welch, the Twilight films) who pops by the theater periodically.

The film also suffers from its low-rent production values and hand-held camerawork shaky enough to induce nausea. Despite the fine performances by Young as the troubled heroine and Elwes (dipping his toe in the horror waters again, after Saw) as the bitter director, A Haunting in Cawdor doesn't cast much of a spell.

Production: Friel Films

Distributor: Uncork'd Entertainment

Cast: Shelby Young, Cary Elwes, Michael Welch, Alexandria DeBerry, Patrick Floch, Charlie King

Director/screenwriter: Phil Wurtzel

Producers: Larry A. Lee, Phil Wurtzel, Lolly Howe

Director of photography: Stephen Smith

Production designer: Kelly Anne Ross

Editor: Thomas Sabinsky

Costume designer: Jenna Ritter

Composer: Todd Maki

Casting: Dan Velez, Sherrie Henderson

Not rated, 102 minutes

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