Written by Ellery Nick
Escaping into the Welsh wilderness, a young couple takes a wrong turn in their car and ends up nose first in a stream. As luck with have it, the crash is heard by the only man for miles around who hurries to lend a hand. But why were they fleeing? It seems the couple have some secrets and they’ve just found a stranger with a few of his own. And so Gareth Bryn, director of Hinterland, makes his film debut with the Welsh language tale – The Passing.
The stranger’s name is Stanley, played by Mark Lewis Jones, who offers to take in Iwan and his girlfriend Sara, after she becomes injured in the crash. The couple, played by Annes Elwy and Dyfan Dwyfor, arrive with some on-going relationship issues and bring an underlying hostility to Stanley’s simple life. Iwan wants to patch up his girlfriend and leave, but it is Stanley who has the capability to help and so the young man is left on the fringes, feeling excluded and unsure what to do.
But recover, she does, and as Sara begins to totter about, she becomes charmed by her rescuer and a rivalry grows between the foppish, passionate boyfriend and the older master of the land.
Not that Stanley seems to notice. He leads a life of silent subsistence, fixing up his house, mending his clothes, cooking and eating in his own realm of puritanical rooms. It’s not clear at first if there is something wrong with Stanley, or if he is just a loner, self-sufficient to the point of social-atrophy and living in the ruins of an abandoned life.
The rambling country house feels like an extension of him. The camera peers into rooms and through further doorways into other distant spaces, suggesting a deep inhabitation, a place maintained with its own procedures and rules.
Stanley has his secrets too. A shy and powerful figure, in his long coat and craggy face, Stanley is a Welsh Frankenstein’s Monster, isolated and exiled from civilisation.
Which is all great stuff. The Passing balances its three players and their differing reactions to isolation and secrecy to offer a lean and empathetic story. Unfortunately, it does not stop there, the film gambles on and begins mixing in party tricks lifted from a conventional horror stockroom. Poor Sara. When little children appear in her mirror, they disappear when she turns round. Doors close of their own volition. They creak whilst doing so. Repeatedly, as she appreciates the countryside in stoic serenity, we are traumatised with a singular unpalatable sound as the scene suddenly shifts to some earthy farmyard toil. It’s okay, it was just Stanley and his spade. This lets us know that the tension is being ramped. It does not, however, allude to an underlying sense of menace as much as slap you round the face every time someone looks out of a window.
Which is a pity, as Stanley is wonderfully established in his world and the tension between the trio was intriguing before they were all asked to put on bed sheets and go whopping about the house. In Z is for Zachariah, the Sci-Fi elements are integral to the story and meaningful to how the three participants looked upon each other. Here, the gothic horror does not quite match the quality of its storytelling.
This was nearly very good and it would be interesting to see what the director does next. The secrets that had been fomenting over the course of the film were not very surprising when found and the spooky additions would need a little more maturing in order to lift it beyond what feels like an apprentice work of confidence.