Sunday 25 February 2018

The Demonic Doll (UK 2018: Dir Richard Mansfield)

The last of Richard Mansfield's micro budget horror films set in London (the director has now relocated to Nottingham), The Demonic Doll continues his trend for luridly titled movies which are in reality much more subtle than their names suggest. This one is a kind of sequel to his last year's The Demonic Tapes; it's even set in the same house (although a different location but the same borough), turning Haringey into an north London version of Amityville.

Rose is a separated mother of two having a couple of weeks on her own while the kids are at dad's. She's trying to get her life together after the split, and is doing some work for the local church magazine, so one assumes there might be a spiritual side to her - there are crosses on the walls of the house. In the same way as the unnamed sole male occupant of the previous film, Rose also discovers a tape recorder plus a spooky antique doll while rummaging around in the basement. And like the previous incumbent, she starts listening to the tapes obsessively. They record sessions with a little boy called Simon, supposedly possessed by a demon, who talks of a malevolent spirit called 'socks' and also 'Mr Sheets.' Rose also finds that the doll she retrieved mysteriously moves itself around the house, and she also half glimpses a cloth swathed figure which also follows her - could it be the same spirit talked about by Simon? Father Matthew from the local church provides support to Rose but is initially not convinced that she isn't making things up. But we know the London semi and its ghostly occupants mean business.

You have to hand it to Richard Mansfield. He does have the ability to create a chilling hour and a bit of screen time out of shadows, some nifty camerawork and some effective sound design (score again enigmatically produced by the mysterious 'Pig 7', and if the anonymously credited musician also turns out to be Mansfield I'll be very envious). The Demonic Doll, perhaps even more than its predecessor, looks to BBC TV's Ghostwatch for its suburban thrills - the director has even stolen that programme's subversive behind the curtains stunt - and as the camera moves stealthily around the house, the viewer is constantly on the lookout for something supernatural at the edge of the frame, catching little details like upturned crosses and mysterious messages. Mansfield doesn't really go in for big jumps, although the score, with its distinctive Mica Levi style shrillness, suggests this might happen.

Castwise this is basically a two hander, Rose being played by Jennie Fox, doing a good job to convince as a middle class mum slowly realising that her home is a haunted house. Confusingly Mansfield regular Darren Munn, who was the stalked man in the same house in The Demonic Tapes, returns here as Father Matthew. But apart from that it's just glimpses of people and disembodied voices on tape.

Look, this won't be everyone's cup of tea, and a certain amount of 'adjustment' is required to view this as conventional entertainment. But I like what Mansfield does with a camera, I applaud his chutzpah, and he's clearly having fun. But I'm slightly relieved that the Haringey horror franchise has ended with the director's move out of London; however I am keenly looking forward to what comes next - maybe a series of Nottingham Nightmares? And you can have that title for free Richard.

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