Appropriately enough for a ghost story, The Haunting of the Lady-Jane begins at a funeral. As Lily O Cleirigh’s (Natasha Linton, Wastelands, Death and the Widow) father her mother, and sister confront her accusing her of causing her father’s death with her sins and keeping his soul away from God.
Six months later while Lily is on a book tour, her sister Kayleigh (Rosanne Priest, Nest of Vampires, Human Contact) calls her from the same church and asks her to come home telling her “we miss you”. Lily for some reason is not interested. She’s planning a trip with Zara (Bryony Harvey, The Stag, Ministry of the Mind) an aspiring influencer whom she met via her blog, and who also seems to have some family issues.
The offer of a free barge trip brings them into contact with Willard Monk (Sean Botha, Abduction 2: Revenge of the Hive Queen, Alfred the Doll) a large man with his own issues. It’s also going to bring all three of them into contact with the spirit known as RÀN (Helene Udy, My Bloody Valentine, Blood Covered Chocolate).
Director Kemal Yildirim (Shades of a Killer, Tales of the Dead) who wrote the script with “additional dialogue” by Mike Hallett (Grand Union Canal, The Night Walker) lays the drama and religious issues on thick in the film’s opening act. This should give you a clue as to where the film’s plot is heading and that The Haunting of the Lady-Jane is not going to be anything like The Barge People.
Instead, it’s a quiet piece of folk horror filtered through the eyes of three damaged people all carrying their own baggage and with their own needs. That more frequently takes center stage than the film’s horror elements which are often kept to the background there more to create a sense of unease than outright fright. While both The Blood on Satan’s Claw and the works of M.R. James are cited as inspirations it’s very obvious which had the most influence on The Haunting of the Lady-Jane.
As the film goes on we get a variety of flashbacks that fill us in on the character’s backstories and help us figure out what’s going on. You have to pay attention and connect the dots though. Because despite the amount of dialogue in the film, there aren’t any long expository scenes to just tell you what you need to know.
And while that is the way a good script should work, at times I could have used a character to come along and give me a clue because The Haunting of the Lady-Jane can be a bit too good at keeping its secrets at times. There are times that pay off, as the viewer is kept unsure if the menace is supernatural or human in nature.
And if it is human which of the trio, or possibly one of the few other people they encounter? Fans of English indie cinema may recognize Thomas Lee Rutter, director of Day of the Stranger, and Bella in the Wych Elm as one of them.
My complaints with The Haunting of the Lady-Jane, besides the sometimes overly opaque script, are few. The acting is rough in a few spots, nothing horrible but it is noticeable. And I found one of the revelations to be somewhat problematical, although that is literally a value judgment others may see differently.
Everything does pay off with some effectively creepy moments in the final act, but unless you’re really into slow burns, and this seems more like a smolder at times, you may not make it that far. But if you’re a fan of the BBC’s Christmas adaptations of M.R. James you’ll probably find this right up your alley.
The Haunting of the Lady-Jane is currently making the rounds of the festival circuit. You can check the film’s Facebook page for announcements of where and when it’s playing. And if you’re looking for more haunting stories, FilmTagger can suggest some titles.