Verena (Emilia Clarke) is a youthful medical caretaker employed to support a mute young boy (Edward Dring) inside a confined castle in Tuscany. The more she watches the kid, the more Verena becomes persuaded that he has fallen under the influence of a powerful and supernatural entity caught within the estate’s walls, one that is by all accounts quickly lacing with her own life.
Following the demise of his mother, Malvina, nine-year-old Jakob anticipates the appearance of another woman who, as indicated by the family’s legend, will fill in as his new maternal figure. After Jakob goes seven months without expressing a word, Verena, a nurse with impeccable credentials shows up at the family’s Tuscan manor to enable him to adapt to his grief. It appears that Jakob believes that his mother speaks to him through the stone walls. Verena devises various ways to demonstrate to him that the voice he hears is only in his mind.
The movie is reminiscent of classics like “Rebecca” and “The Turn of the Shrew.” It is set in the 50’s era and the mist, falling leaves, shadowy sepulcher and decaying statues create a visual spectacle of foreboding.
With no-nonsense clothes and an annoying smirk, Verena is depicted as a prim and proper nurse who is confident of her ability to help ailing children. Jakob hasn’t spoken ever since his mother passed away from a mysterious fever seven months ago. Verena initially fails to engage him and he keeps straying away from her. He runs off into the woods, ventures high up into the castle or perches himself atop tree tops. In between these games of hide-and-seek, Verena begins to believe that Jakob can indeed hear his mother through the walls.
Jakob’s father, Klaus, seems to have issues of his own. He is a sculptor and his cold behavior and steely visage doesn’t make things easy. I felt like you could only get a hint of his character and it wasn’t developed enough to be interesting. The focus was mainly on Verena. His appearances in the first half are mainly to express a mild concern for Jakob or to relate how living cats were once cemented inside the mansion’s walls. Verena also stumbles upon Lilia, a mature grey haired woman, dressed in black, who makes her feel welcome, while recounting some of the family’s history.
Meanwhile, Malvina’s (Jakob’s mother) enduring presence – in her pictures, clothes and piano- begin to make an impression on Verena. It’s only a matter of time before she begins dressing in Malvina’s clothes, poses for Klaus and develops a sexual attraction for him, that appears to be mutual. The only problem is that there doesn’t seem to be any romantic tension or sexual chemistry between them before this. While it doesn’t look forced, it does come as something of a surprise. You never quite know whether Klaus sees her as an extension of his wife, or as Verena, herself. Verena, on the other hand, seems quite willing to take up the space left by his dead wife, both as Klaus’ partner and Jakob’s guardian.
The best aspect about the movie is the evocative ambience created through impeccable cinematography. The picturesque castle and its vicinity swim with a ghostly atmosphere- from its running waters, to its high turrets and the stone-grey family crypt.
The ending doesn’t come to boiling point, as it could have done. It merely simmers on slow burn as you realize the whole movie right up until the end has done much of the same.
My Honest Opinion
The movie was better than I expected it to be, and Emilia Clarke’s performance as Verena is thoughtful and convincing. She goes from a demure nanny to ravishing woman quite persuasively. Klaus as the father doesn’t have much of a role and as such is not as compelling. Jakob is silent for all of the movie but does make an impact with his obstinate demeanor. Lillia’s character invokes a lot of curiosity and I felt as an actress, she was the most competent of the lot.
The story isn’t all that original, but does keep you guessing. The star of the movie is the chilly visuals that envelop the castle and its environs. While the build-up seems labored, there’s always the sense that it is propelling towards a climactic end. However, that doesn’t happen. Instead it slow-waltzes to a final scene, that is as open to interpretation as the whole movie itself. Does Emilia Clarke have mental health issues? Is this just a story of two people finding comfort in one another? Are the supernatural happenings a figment of their imaginations? This is one movie where the answers will possibly throw up even more questions.