If there is one thing we’ve learned from years and years of horror movies, it’s this: do not go into the woods at night, especially if you are a teen or early twenty-something. Should you choose to venture into the darkened wilderness, chances are that you will not make it out in one piece. That lesson is tragically learned by a group of friends one evening during the prologue of The Castle. This moderately successful nightmare comes from writer-director-star Arish Sirkissoon.
The group is made up of Kim (Khushi Parekh), Mark (Shivaan Moodley), Alicia (Sibongiseni Shezi), and Terry (Tevin Kunene). These four are presented in much the same way that many small groups of friends are presented in horror flicks: but for the fact that they’re characters in a motion picture, these people would never be friends otherwise.
After all four are dispatched, we are introduced to the leads of The Castle, Michael (Sirkissoon) and Catherine (Rio Notra Segal). It’s their wedding day, but we learn the lovely couple has eloped due to Catherine’s disapproving mother. But Michael and Catherine are young and in love, all else be damned!
After the ceremony, the two newlyweds hop in their car and head off to somewhere while a wildly incongruous rock song plays on the soundtrack. Seriously, this song is so out of place. The tune sounds like it belongs in a training montage in some 80s movie, not during an ominous drive in a horror film. The couple then runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere because, of course, they do. Abandoning their car to go and seek assistance, the only potential possibility they find is an isolated mansion where the doors are open and the lights are on. But no one’s home! But never mind that. Michael and Catherine make themselves comfortable for the night before things start to get weird.
“Michael and Catherine make themselves comfortable for the night before things start to get weird.”
The concept of The Castle is quite good, and Sirkissoon manages to create some truly scary scenarios. For example, the terrifying attacks in the woods during the prologue and a spine-tingling moment when an unidentified presence strokes Catherine’s hair, unbeknownst to her. Creepy stuff!
The acting is generally fine all around. Though no one really has to stretch since all the characters are “types” as opposed to fully fleshed-out people. In particular, Sibongiseni Shezi, as Alicia, shows she definitely has the chops to make it as a Scream Queen should she choose to pursue that course. Sirkissoon makes a nice character change later on, and Rio Notra Segal is a fine heroine.
At times, and with the help of director of photography Nick Bartlett, Sirkissoon seems to be experimenting with the visual tricks afforded him by photography. Early on in The Castle, there is a close-up of the popping of a beer can, the effervescence poetically spilling from the aluminum. It looks great, but what is the purpose of this shot? The beer can has no significance. And how many overhead drone shots can one film have before it starts to look like the cinematographer is a bird? In a narrative movie, each shot must have a meaning, and some of the shots here, while they make pretty pictures, do not contribute to the story in any way.
The Castle is clearly a passion project for Sirkissoon. As a director, he exhibits a knack for developing an eerie atmosphere. This, coupled with his penchant for interesting visual shots, should make his next project one to watch out for.
"…clearly a passion project for Sirkissoon."