'The Passing' ('Yr Ymadawiad'): Film Review

Courtesy of Fantasic Fest
A magnetic, slow-building ghost story.

An enigmatic loner rescues a pair of lovers with a secret.

The big-deal ghost story at this year's Fantastic Fest may have been Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak, but genre fans who longed for slow-burn hauntings found a sleeper gem in Gareth Bryn's The Passing, an aggressively sparse tale that in several ways has more in common with del Toro's The Devil's than the director's own maximalist, literary "gothic romance." A Welsh-language genre pic that buries its political subtext so deep a director's commentary is needed to unearth it, the film contains far too few jolts to appeal to garden variety horror fans. But the highbrow contingent will respond well at fests, and Bryn's quiet confidence earns him a spot on filmmaker-to-watch lists.

Rather than trying to guess at the implications of its ambiguously suggestive title, viewers will be wise to go in focused on its lean face-value scenario: Young couple Sara and Iwan (Annes Elwy and Dyfan Dwyfor) crash their car into a stream near a remote farmhouse and must rely on the only person around, Mark Lewis Jones's Stanley, for help. The world they're caught in is a cold and soggy one, where chores don't stop on account of rain and noise is so rare that Stanley can distinguish between different textures of silence.

The young lovers cannot help but disrupt Stanley's solitary existence, but he assists them stoically, one part gentle goodwill mixed with three parts standoffishness. As they recuperate from the trauma of the crash, though, we get hints that Iwan and Sara linger not just out of curiosity about the hermit but due to something in their past. "Everything we need is here," she says hopefully. "We can stop running."

If she intends to supplant the stone farmhouse's owner, though, Sara will get more than she bargains for. Bryn and screenwriter Ed Talfan offer almost the slimmest hints possible that Stanley shares the home with spirits, and the script rations out shreds of information about his childhood that we must stitch together into theories about this haunting's nature. Meanwhile, noirish elements threaten to heat up the chilly setting.

A TV veteran making his first feature, Bryn has no trouble establishing a distinctive mood; viewers attracted by the novel prospect of hearing actors speaking Welsh will soon forget that's what drew them in. As Stanley, Jones is similarly good at using minimal cues to suggest a large interior world. It's a performance intriguing enough that one might have been content to watch Stanley spend the length of a feature interacting only with himself and his land, saying nothing aloud, in Welsh or otherwise.

Production company: Severn Screen

Cast: Mark Lewis Jones, Dyfan Dwyfor, Annes Elwy

Director: Gareth Bryn

Screenwriter: Ed Talfan

Producers: Kate Crowther, Ed Talfan

Executive producers: Gwawr Martha Lloyd, Hannah Thomas

Director of photography: Richard Stoddard

Production designer: Tim Dickel

Costume designer: Sian Jenkins

Editor: Sara Jones

Music: Jeremy Holland-Smith

No rating, 89 minutes

comments powered by Disqus