Lord of Tears has been riding high in the wake of its successful crowd funding campaign. Shot on location in Scotland in 2012, the money raised was then used to finish, polish and promote the film, and since its release it has been getting great reviews from audiences and heavy-hitter horror sites alike. Low budgets and hype can sometimes be a dangerous combination; audiences have certain expectations these days even from smaller budgeted films due to the advancements in digital technology and post production techniques. Does Lord of Tears live up to the buzz surrounding it?
Mild mannered school teacher James Findlay (Euan Douglas) has just suffered the death of his mother, and finds himself the sole heir to the family estate. This includes the oppressive Baldurrock House, a mansion set away in the Scottish wilds, a place which his mother warns him not to return to in the will. Conflicted by his estranged, deceased mothers warning and his desire to unlock memories of his childhood, James heads to Baldurrock to see if he can reclaim the past. On arrival at the property, he is greeted by the pretty Eve (Alexandra Hulme), an American girl lodging in the converted barn. The two hit it off straight away, with Eve intrigued by the strange, forgotten childhood that James is trying to piece together. It doesn’t take long for the other resident of the Baldurrock estate to show up: the evil, omnipresent Owlman. A sinister presence who seems to invade James’ thoughts, the Owlman suggests ancient horrors that have perhaps existed for centuries on the property. But just what is the connection to James, his family and this pagan god? Should he have just heeded his mothers words and stayed away?
Director Lawrie Brewster does many things right here. Instead of going for the more obvious, gore-strewn path that most low budget, indie filmmakers tread, he opts for atmosphere, characters and a real sense of drama that is seldom seen in films like this. Excellent use is made of the incredible Scottish landscape, with the misty woods and cold mountains complementing the haunted tone perfectly. It’s the ideal setting for a folk horror tale such as this, and the house used for Baldurrock is just as cold and heartless as the landscape around it. The sparseness carries over into the script and cast. Throughout, we only have two central performances, with a seemingly minor character playing a large role in the finale. For some films, this might seem restrictive, but the cast is solid enough to carry the mystery and mood on their shoulders, with only a few dips here and there. The story itself is relatively straightforward, but when it comes to ghost stories the beauty lies in simplicity.
By keeping things minimal with characters and plotting, Brewster can focus on pulling as much dread and atmosphere from his minimal budget, and for the most part, he’s successful. The Owlman is a memorable icon of terror, wonderfully voiced by David Schofield, and the production design on his ‘look’ is excellent. Unlike the killer in Soavi‘s Stagefright, who has a similar look, Owlman isn’t the one necessarily doing the killing or dishing out the bloodshed; he’s merely the catalyst for us weak humans to perform horrible deeds to each other. The film has some nicely done scares, despite its traditional tone, with a creepy bathtub scene at the 3/4 mark that got me. Some of the other frights throughout are less well conceived. Without spoiling anything, the film takes a dip into Asian horror territory just after the scare mentioned above. Unfortunately, I found it completely jarring with the tone and visuals that had gone before it, and the editing just didn’t work for me at this point.
This leads on to my biggest issue with the film; the editing. From the start, scenes just aren’t given the chance to breath without rapid, jump-cut editing tearing through them. The film wants you to know it’s a horror film at nearly every opportunity it gets, even when nothing horrible is happening, and it becomes tiresome quickly. It’s a pity, as it then detracts from the well-done jump scares that happen once we get to Baldurrock and the meat of the story. It’s a restraint that also would have served well in other moments, in which I was left baffled as to why lengthy scenes just weren’t edited down. We are treated to Eve dancing around James for what must be 5 or 6 minutes, and it feels really clunky, grinding the film to a halt. A similar problem pops up only minutes later, with James having a midnight swim, only to be joined by Eve. She prances around for another few minutes before getting into the water, this time accompanied by a pop rock song on the soundtrack that makes you think you might have suddenly started watching a different film. It’s jarring, and these moments would probably take most people out of the film who had been sticking with it at this point, and adds to an already lengthy running time.
Overall though, Lord of Tears is saved somewhat by a satisfying ending and an emotional conclusion to the fate of our characters. The film is beautifully shot, and the performances are reasonable, with the director, Brewster, coming out on top. Is it a film you should seek out? If an arthouse, low budget version of The Woman in Black sounds like the kind of film you’d enjoy, then absolutely, dig in. If you are expecting something along the lines of say, The Conjuring, then it is probably best avoided.