The Marsh Review
While it is always a pleasure to see a film that seeks to be more than those films that precede it in the sub-genre, coming late to the game means dealing with existing audience expectations, as well as having to risk cliché. Actor/director Jordan Barker (My Brother’s Keeper) and writer Michael Stokes deliver a Stephen King-esque story about a best-selling children’s book author seeking the key to her nightmares, and aim for a better film than the recent crop of chillers such as The Skeleton Key, and the film whose box-office kick-started the trend, What Lies Beneath.
Claire Holloway (Gabrielle Anwar) finds online the house she sees in the nightmares that inspired her scary children’s books, in a town called Marshville. Choosing to rent it as her holiday location, she suffers through a series of supernatural encounters that involve a small girl, a threatening teen boy, somebody who may or may not be the local shopkeeper, and the local marsh just beyond her land. Choosing to help her is the local newspaper editor (Justin Louis), attracted by her beauty, but Claire turns instead to experienced paranormal investigator Hunt (Forest Whitaker). What they will find will dredge up old memories and the truth about who orphaned Claire really is.
Glossy, well-made, a classic chiller in the mould of 70s-era Stephen King, this film is made with a decent visual eye, strong direction that balances excellent SFX with very good performances, and a good score which doesn’t over-do the hysterics. The script, however, lets everyone down, as it just doesn’t give the cast the meat they need to really lift it out of the rut of such films. Anwar (Body Snatchers, Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead) is as strong a performer as she always has been, finding the humanity in a clichéd character whose motivations are never given sufficient force to explain why she willingly submits herself to so much terror for so long before seeking help. Always a noted screen beauty, she is aging extremely gracefully, and the film is amply appreciative of her finely-sculpted face which is only improved by those lines age has brought, while her figure would shame many a twenty-year old – the editor’s immediate attraction to her is thus rendered credible. Justin (Dawn of the Dead remake, endless amounts of TV) Louis’ performance plays nicely with the cliché of his character to begin with, but too quickly moves to the obvious as the script demands it. Forest Whitaker (Bird, Ghost Dog – need I say any more?), however, walks away with the acting honours, taking the cliché of the ghost hunter no-one likes or believes and turning him away from the usual types (Donald Pleasance-style Ahab, Ghostbusters techno-geek, old village coot) to something resembling a supernatural Shaft, all Harry Palmer glasses and shaved head cool, stating the obvious to the lead character that the audience have been saying all along: why on earth is she still staying in the house?!
In the end, the film is smart enough to not waste its time on explaining traditional poltergeist activity or psychological theories on traumatic events – it understands the audience awareness of such things and gets on with delivering the supernatural scares in increasing bursts until Whitaker’s character helps Claire with the vision. Then the threat escalates, moves out of the house and into town, killing others - a scene set in broad daylight in the local grocers is expertly done, as is one in a horse stable, both reminiscent of Cronenberg’s take on King, The Dead Zone. While the finale does go on a bit, and the titular marsh is somewhat peripheral to the story as it eventually resolves itself, the climax justifies the audience involvement and leavens some of the earlier occurrences with sufficient credibility.
I personally was bored to tears by What Lies Beneath, and when I chatted briefly to the director on the Friday evening before Pan’s Labyrinth, I said as much to him, hoping he’d do better. Overall, he has; this will appeal to the many people who enjoyed the other film, which did excellent box-office, and this deserves far more to perform similarly well, especially on cold autumn nights at UK multiplexes with young adult couples. It is far and away the better film, with a wider appeal to more seasoned horror fans as well, more class (with Anwar involved I expected no less) and, in Forest Whitaker’s Hunt, a character I would dearly love to see get his own movie, a sort of supernatural Ghost Dog. Now THAT, I would pay money to see!
The Marsh is currently only screening at festivals.