The Movie Waffler First Look Review - THE HAUNTING OF THE LADY-JANE | The Movie Waffler


The Haunting of the Lady-Jane review
Two female travelling companions share a barge on a reputedly haunted stretch of England's waterways with a religiously obsessed man.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Kemal Yildirim

Starring: Natasha Linton, Bryony Harvey, Sean Botha, Helene Udy

The Haunting of the Lady-Jane poster

With their concrete imposition upon the fertile wetlands of the countryside, and their eerie repurpose from vital industrial distribution routes to today's niche middle class holiday loci, the inland waterways of Britain are definitively hauntological. The hard worn Victorian past of transporting raw materials of coal and lumber around Britain re-exists today as recreation for modern boaters, with their brightly coloured brass and decks, who roam the chocolate box towns of England and Wales in search of real ale and the authentic rural experience which the metropolis lacks. I've never fancied it myself, as, aside from all the mud and bracken, manning a narrowboat seems far too much like hard work for one so delicate! Aside from the constant vigilance which being in control of a 72 foot long vessel upon a moving body of water would entail, there is the arse ache of rusty locks to deal with, of iron cranks and creaking gates. Canal boating entails a close relationship with the elements, patience with the landscape and an instinctive empathy towards the cold depths of the British water.

The Haunting of the Lady-Jane review

Kemal Yildirim's (writer/director/producer) creepy folk horror The Haunting of the Lady-Jane duly uses the waterways as setting and inspiration for its shiver-me-timbers plot. Natasha Linton, the striking star of Yildirim's Wastelands, plays Lily, a character whose trauma, as in the earlier film, is located in specifically female (and sexual) experience. An upcoming feminist author with a certain clout among the social media crowd, Lily decides on a whim to accept an offer of free passage up the British canal system with a fan, Zara (Bryony Harvey), whom she has met through her blog. Following a dreamlike funeral, where The Last Supper is invoked and Lily is blamed for the death of her father via vague accusations of "breaking his heart" and the more direct invective "you cunt" (!) from an embittered aunt, Lily is a Judas figure; outcast and seemingly either searching for redemption or taking flight from the past. However, within the tightly organised networks of the British Waterway Systems, destinations are circumscribed, and notwithstanding the journey's metaphorical inferences, the terminus is inevitable: a Styxian dynamic.

The Haunting of the Lady-Jane review

In the film's more sober prelude, Lily is likened by her father to a tree (trees and fields - a semantic association with the Twelfth Apostle? Or am I just writing this on Good Friday?), specifically linking her to pagan, feminine nature. Nonetheless, upon the shifting currents of the canals, Catholic implications of guilt and punishment abide courtesy of Willard (Sean Botha), the ship's manly captain who is not only typically superstitious but a religious nut, too. Willard has a past of his own to contend with, involving his departed wife, who, flashbacks inform us, got increasingly fed up being stuck on a cramped boat with an alcoholic would-be Theologian. And, as exemplified by the weirdly lawless arena of water, the ambiguity of countless drownings and disappearances with the tide, being adrift can lead to desperate behaviours... The waters are further murked by the presence of RÀN (Helene Udy), a vengeful water spirit who haunts the damp shadows of the Shropshire conduits. Yikes! Just as Lily must come to terms with the dark depths of the past, there is no escaping the folk history of the countryside, either. The water under the bridge surges up to soak our trio.

As they travel deeper into the night, and strange events mark the journey, Willard advises that the further north one travels the more haunted the "damn cold, dark and wet" byways become, before pointedly equating "water, sex and death." Lily, with her religious background, consolidates the refrain by chipping in a reference to the Fallen woman, anchoring the film's ideology. The night-time discourse between The Haunting of the Lady-Jane's three passengers is thoughtful and astute, with Zara (a viral chasing millennial), Willard (a mercurial Ahab figure) and Lily (pagan heroine/Biblical criminal) fulfilling recognisable archetypes.

The Haunting of the Lady-Jane review

Complimenting the dialogue, the film's atmospheric use of space (both open and enclosed) and expressive lighting reinforces the themes of repression and retribution in a manner that will please fans of folkloric horror. Perhaps the ending, with its overtly literal denouements and implausible costumes (crowdfunded, the film otherwise makes the most of its microbudget via well-chosen locations and convincing direction) trouble the waters somewhat, but ultimately, The Haunting of the Lady-Jane charters a pleasingly gothic navigation though the spooky shadows of a haunted Britain.

A release date has yet to be announced.

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