It’s probably not a great sign when a film sits on the shelf for six years, unreleased and undistributed, but such is the case with The Haunting Of Ellie Rose, a modest little low-budget number out of the UK from first-time director Tristan Versluis (who also co-wrote the script with Tim Major and Andy Thompson), a guy who’s apparently has made a name for himself as one of the top makeup artists in the British film and television industry — and has subsequently returned to that line of work. Again, probably not a great sign.
So, anyway, yeah — this flick was actually filmed back in 2009, but hung around collecting dust until 2015, when it was finally released on DVD as well as onto various home viewing platforms, including Amazon Prime, which is how I caught it. I certainly wasn’t expecting much given what little I knew of the production’s backstory, it’s true, but hey — I’ve found celluloid diamonds in considerably rougher spots than this in the past. Would this then prove to be another pleasant, unexpected surprise?
The short answer to that, I’m sorry to say, is “no,” but it’s not for lack of trying on Versluis’ part. His script here is paper-thin, to be sure — beaten down (emotionally, mentally, physically) by an abusive marriage, our protagonist (played by Eastenders star Lucy Benjamin), whose name you already know, splits from asshole husband Frank (Bill Ward) and returns to her disused family cabin, ostensibly on the US east coast, where flashbacks to her troubled childhood soon threaten to overtake her waking life and go some way toward amping up the apprehension she feels toward either splitting the scene, or staying where she is and awaiting the arrival of — someone. Honestly, it’s tough to pinpoint exactly what is coming, if anything, but that’s a secondary concern for Versluis, since he spends most of his time piecing together where his central character has been.
In fact,in a very real sense, the present-day scenes in this film are just stage-setters for the flashbacks — Ellie stares out to sea a lot and pours herself one drink after another, and we do learn that an impending reunion with her younger sister, Chloe (Alexandra Moen), is what’s she’s so stressed about, but the real “action,” to the extent that it even exists, happens in the past, where we meet younger versions of Ellie and Chloe, as well as their emotionally distant mother, Rose (Kika Mirylees), whose supposed “transformation” from warm and loving parent to ice queen is still having reverberations in her daughters’ lives to this day. Although, ya know, stumbling across her dead body probably traumatized them a lot more —
I give Versluis credit for eschewing typical horror movie visual tropes in favor of a more “art house” look to his proceedings, but his disjointed time-jumps and rapid-fire editing do start to grate before too long. And by the fourth time we’re treated to a black-and-white flashback of the girls discovering their mother’s mutilated corpse, you’re more than ready to say “enough is enough.” The scenes look uniformly good, I’ll grant you that, but damn — they also looked good the first time, and once was plenty. Padding out a film is a necessary fact of life sometimes, sure, but when you go over the same ground over and over again and still only end up with an 80-minute feature,well, you’re in Nick Millard territory at that point.
The cast does a pretty decent job across the board here, particularly Benjamin (although all of them struggle with their American accents from time to time), but it’s not so much the quality of the material they’re given that holds them back as its sheer paucity. At the end of the day, The Haunting Of Ellie Rose feels like nothing so much as a 20-minute short extended far beyond its carrying capacity, and hoping desperately that some well-executed atmospherics can establish a pleasing enough “vibe” to distract you from the fact that there’s just not much happening here. It comes far short of pulling off that hustle, no question, but in strange way I do sort of admire Versluis and company for the earnestness with which they try to convince you that the appetizer they’re serving is actually a full meal.