Writer-director Richard Mansfield’s found footage horror film sees a Londoner move to the Midlands to find his new house possessed by a demonic spirit.
Found footage horror is not easy to get right. It looks simple but as the worst examples of the genre example, when you’re doing it badly, it shows. They’re also the reason found footage horror gets a poor reputation; a surprising reality given The Blair Witch Project remains one of the most effective contemporary horror movies and rightly a distinguished entry amongst the 1990s best films. Yet it led to an abundance of entries in a genre now over-populated by mediocrity. The democratisation of the once very expensive filmmaking process coupled with a digital stage offered by video-on-demand, has, aside from its numerous benefits, made found footage horror the indulgence of a great many hacks.
That isn’t to say writer-director Richard Mansfield’s 2018 film, The House on Mansfield Street should be shelved away with the dross that sometimes spews from this particular horror niche. There’s talent for suspense on show, an understanding of tone, and a few stylistic flourishes to unsettle the nerves and create those indelible images that prey on the mind. But it suffers because of a lack of authenticity; the result of performance, dramatisation, and ultimately, logistics. That relieves the tension and makes it difficult for the audience to hook itself back in.
Mansfield, whose previous credits offer an insight into his predilection for cult and classic horror courtesy of their playful titles (Video Killer, The Mothman Curse, Blood on Satan’s Paw), sees his protagonist, a video editor from London (Matthew Hunt), move to a small cottage in the Midlands because of a new job, deciding to film the moving and settling in process. That’s understandable – and believable – until strange things begin to happen and it becomes an all-too convenient curiosity. Instead of retreating, of calling for help, of phoning the police when he believes someone is in his house, he turns the light off and gets back into bed every night.
Despite an agreeable use of a camera rigged to a motion detector, the writer-director lacks invention in his approach, making The House on Mansfield Street feel like a low-rent British Paranormal Activity. The introduction of the strange neighbour and her weird fascination with stinky trinkets and tarot cards makes a satisfyingly macabre impression on the film’s tone but actress Kathryn Redwood’s deceptive subtlety clashes with Matthew Hunt’s artificiality, underscoring his limitations.
Without a shred of novelty, artifice in Hunt’s performance and the film’s plot becomes even more glaring. Instead of building the tension towards an unsuspecting climax – hindered further by some heavy-handed and unnecessary scoring (the “oh look out, here’s a scary part” orchestration) – this has the reverse effect as things become a bit tedious prior to a disappointing conclusion. There’s also the uncanny feeling that the audio effects archive has been raided for an assortment of cliched grunts and groans, further diminishing The House on Mansfield Street’s authenticity, limiting its potential to unsettle and unnerve.
Tragically, if detractors to the genre were to example its frailties, Richard Mansfield’s effort here would be a good case study. We’ve seen how found footage horror has successfully evolved in the digital era and how filmmakers have discovered a unique touch despite channelling the tropes that made The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity so effective. But the likes of The Last Exorcism, Hell House LLC, Bad Ben, Leaving D.C., and Creep have shown how you can either inject fresh ideas into otherwise conventional storytelling or discover new approaches to the concept. Or you end up with The House on Mansfield Street, which does neither, feeling derivative and stale and stuck in the past.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Richard Mansfield
Written by: Richard Mansfield
Starring: Matthew Hunt, Kathryn Redwood
Released: 2018 / Genre: Found Footage Horror
Country: UK / IMDB
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The House on Mansfield Street is available on VOD.