"The Owlman" tells the story of James Findlay, a school teacher plagued by recurring nightmares of a mysterious and unsettling entity. Suspecting that his visions are linked to a dark incident in his past, James returns to his childhood home, a notorious mansion in the Scottish Highlands, where he uncovers the disturbing truth behind his dreams, and must fight to survive the brutal consequences of his curiosity...
The opening quick-cut myriad of imagery to ‘The Owlman’ is so bleak you can almost taste it. Rain, biting winter, frost, landscape, a dark figure in the trees – these things come together so beautifully that the film looks set to be something special. When the actual story begins, some of the initial acting makes the heart sink a little – the low-budgetness of it all seems suddenly apparent.
James (Euan Douglas) inherits a sprawling mansion in the Scottish Highlands from a mother he hardly knew. Her letter insists he never returns there, having suffered a breakdown there as a child. So, naturally, he feels he has no choice but to return, to see if he can identify what troubled him so.
Once there, he suffers increasing nightmares, glimpses of a strange owl-like creature, discarded feathers in dark places. He makes friends with Eve Turner (Lexi Hulme), a mysterious, beautiful American girl living in nearby renovated stables. (“What do you do here?” he asks. “Don’t spoil it,” she replies – shades of 2015’s ‘The Last House on Cemetery Lane’). SPOILER: The fact that Eve isn’t ‘real’ is no huge surprise, nor I suspect is it meant to be. She is presented and played as larger-than-life, enigmatic and deeply eccentric, especially in contrast to James’ more sober bearing.
James is in regular contact with his friend Allen Milton (Jamie Gordon), who also appears to be afflicted with nightmares, and that of his father’s seemingly incurable illness.
Steadfastly, James learns his parents worshipped Moloch, a Canaanite god, and provided it with sacrifice. Unable to bear offering their son, they contracted a nanny and killed her instead. Eve is a manifestation of that dead girl. Once that connection has been made, Eve (and the narrative) take on more traditional horror film territory, jumping from MR James to David Lynch (not a bad combination). Eve’s extravagances are suddenly not charming anymore, but ghost-like and terrifying. Watching it all is the Owlman (who appears to be the physical manifestation of Moloch), promising foul things to avenge the girl.
Later, as James is telling his story to Allen, it appears Allen also worships Moloch and sacrifices his friend in order to save his father, seemingly condemning James to be the ghost who inhabits the estate instead of Eve.
It doesn’t matter that the acting is not always stellar. The story, the mood, the atmosphere, the location, the direction are all stunning, resulting in an extremely effective ghost story/tragedy. ‘The Owlman’ is the directorial debut of Lawrie Brewster, a name to watch out for. It won two awards at the 2013 Bram Stoker International Film Festival – one, an audience award, and the other for Lexi Hulme’s performance. Highly recommended.