Film Review: Voice from the Stone

A nurse, a frustrated widower and a bereaved boy confront the ghosts of the past in this 1950s-set psychological ghost story.
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Nurse Verena (Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones”), who specializes in counseling psychologically damaged children, is summoned to an opulent Tuscan villa by widower Klaus (Marton Csokas). His young son Jakob (Edward Dring) hasn't spoken since the sudden death of his mother Malvina (Caterina Murino), a charismatic and internationally acclaimed pianist whom he adored, and Klaus—who is himself mired in mourning—is afraid his son will never recover.

Deeply committed to her work, Verena is also haunted by the fact that "her life is measured out in goodbyes”: The cruel measure of her success is that she's no longer needed. A rationalist to the core, she gradually comes to believe that there may be more to the situation than wrenching grief; Verena starts to suspect that Malvina's spirit lingers within the very stones of the villa that's belonged to her family for centuries, and that her persistent presence is preventing Jakob and Klaus from getting on with their lives.

At its core, Eric D. Howell's film, based on a novel by Silvio Raffo, is a 19th-century-style psychological ghost story, a genre epitomized by Henry James' 1898 classic The Turn of the Screw, memorably filmed as The Innocents (1961). But it's also hard not to see echoes of ’70s Italian gothic horror films like Dario Argento's Deep Red (1975), especially in the scenes of Jakob caressing the villa's soft plaster walls, as though there were secrets vibrating just beneath their surface, and English supernatural tales like M.R. James' short story "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" (1904), twice filmed for U.K. television.

All in all, a great pedigree. The trouble is that while lovely to look at, Voice from the Stone is more than a little dull. Clarke works hard, but Verena's tormented inner life is stated rather than evoked and Klaus—a frustrated artist who was eclipsed by his blazingly talented wife—and sad little Jakob barely register: They're present, but barely there. And ultimately, neither is Malvina. She's no Rebecca de Winter, eclipsing lesser mortals from beyond the grave; she's just a dead lady glimpsed on a poster. Restraint is an admirable thing in an age of blunt shockers, but even the most refined ghost story needs to deliver a shiver or two and Voice from the Stone doesn't.

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