★★★ out of ★★★★★
Bright Hill Road traverses some familiar territory but is worth the trip at least once.
Directed by Robert Cuffley
I avoid spoilers and comparisons that hint toward spoilers as often as possible, but it is fair to say about Canadian horror film Bright Hill Road that seasoned fright-fare viewers will be familiar with its elements of The Shining, Carnival of Souls, and The Twilight Zone from very early on. If filmmakers are going to use earlier material for inspiration, though, those are strong offerings indeed, and Bright Hill Road does a solid job while wearing its influences on its cinematic sleeve. Its effectiveness comes courtesy of strong performances — the film is largely a three-hander after a jolting opening sequence — admirable direction from Robert Cuffley, and a sound screenplay from Susie Moloney.
Marcy (Siobhan Williams) is an alcoholic human resources manager who shows up to work drunk on the day that a man she recently fired returns to exact bloody revenge on his former officemates. Told by management to take a leave of absence from work, she calls her sister and leaves a message that she wants to come stay with her.
On her way to her sister’s home, Marcy winds up at a boarding house looked after by Mrs. Inman (Agam Darshi), a stoic woman who increasingly asserts her suggestions about how Marcy should handle herself. Marcy, who should have known something was afoot when she spotted the former owner’s blood stains on the staircase wall right away, hears voices in the creepy basement and a woman’s sobbing from an empty room. Copious bottles of complementary wine with alarming messages attached to them drive Marcy further away from her goal of sobering up. Then the only other tenant at the boarding house, Owen (Michael Eklund), arrives, making things more disturbing and unsettling.
Cuffley creates a discomfiting mise-en-scène, from long close-ups of Marcy’s physically deteriorating condition to her stark collages, to the aging structure and its aforementioned dark and spooky — and possibly haunted — basement. He builds tension slowly but steadily, as Moloney’s screenplay reveals clues and secrets by degrees.
Bright Hill Road is a showcase for Williams, who captures the crippling aspects of alcoholism well, even when the script calls for a few tropes and cliches of such an onscreen character. Her performance is one of the film’s highlights, and she plays off of both Darshi and Eklund impressively. Eklund’s performance as a mysterious stranger is truly chilling, and Darshi gives a nice turn in a role that calls for less emotion than that of the other main characters.
Viewers may figure out where Bright Hill Road is headed early on, but thanks to the positives mentioned in this review, and some first-rate gore effects and eerie special effects, overall the journey is one worth taking.
Bright Hill Road, from Uncork’d Entertainment, is available on DVD and Digital from January 12, 2021.