“I want to hear you speak.”
Voice from the Stone is the type of ghost story where the atmosphere does the heavy lifting while the ghosts take lengthy breaks. It’s cut from the same cloth as The Innocents and a half-dozen M.R. James tales about foggy marshes, candle-lit attics and loud rapping sounds. These aren’t bad sources to draw from, but the problem with Voice from the Stone is that it just reminds us we could be focusing on its better inspirations. To make things even more unevenly stacked, there’s even a healthy dose of Hitchcock’s Rebecca thrown into the story for good measure.
Emilia Clarke is Verena, a governess who specializes in helping unfortunate children. She’s very good at her job but as a result is steeped in loneliness, as she moves from one family to the next, growing fond of the children in her care only to have to leave them once they’ve recovered from their ailments. Her latest job proves to be much more difficult than the others, however. She’s hired to help Jakob (Edward Georg Dring), a nine-year-old who lives in a moody mansion with his frowning father, Klaus (Marton Csokas). Jakob hasn’t spoken a word since his mother died seven months ago. He’s prone to violent outbursts and, stranger still, insists he can hear the ghost of his mother talking to him from inside the walls.
It’s a spooky enough set-up, and director Eric D. Howell mines it for all he can, letting his gloomy, foggy locales do most of the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, the narrative itself is sluggish. Voice from the Stone plods along, content to make us wait for something to happen. There’s nothing wrong with a slow build-up of tension or a emotionally-driven tale of gothic romance. But you need to have something happening to hold our attention or, at the very least, you need to make the characters we’re spending all this time with stand out. That’s not the case here. Clarke spends the bulk of the film looking befuddled, and she does her best to bring a warmth and empathy to her thinly sketched character, but it’s not enough. Csokas, as the brooding father, makes more of an impression, but that’s likely because his character always seems on the verge of scolding someone.
Voice from the Stone tries to right itself in the third act, where it revs the horror elements into overdrive. But this sudden burst of malevolence is at odds with the rest of the film, and it’s not enough to make us forget what came before it. Voice from the Stone wants to pay homage to the great gothic horror films and stories that came before it, but you’d probably be better off just watching and reading them instead.