With their first two features as under the Hex Media/Studios banner, Lord of Tears (2013) and The Unkindness of Ravens (2016), Sarah Daly, Lawrie Brewster, and their compatriots have shown a knack for developing high concept mythological horror. While each film boasts distinct traits, they all take place in a shared universe where ancient entities in the form of terrifying demonic birds inflict psychological torment and demand sacrifices. Genre films which boast this much imagination are few and far between, and while every film is rooted in influences from classic film, the themes they explore very much reflect modern times. And with their Owlman creation, they’ve unleashed a modern icon of fright who’s rapidly becoming a favorite among monster enthusiasts. In The Black Gloves, a gothic noir and spiritual prequel to Lord of Tears, he’s back for another exercise in terror, and.it’s also his best outing yet.
Following a stunning opening credits sequence that’s reminiscent of Universal’s classic horror canon, we meet Dr. Finn Galloway (Jamie Scott Gordon) on a cliff as he tries to stop a patient (Susan Barrow) from taking her own life. Unfortunately, his pleading and begging isn’t enough to pull her away from the allure of the merciless rocks and waves below. She’s desperate to escape from a terrifying evil entity, and that strange creature’s ominous presence.lurks throughout the rest of the film like an oppressive force.
The mysterious motivations behind the woman’s death leads our protagonist on an investigation to a secluded estate in the Scottish Highlands. He wants answers. It is also there where we meet Elisa (Alexandra Nicole Hulme), a ballerina plagued by the fears and nightmares that drove his old patient to her doomed fate. We also meet her domineering mentor, Lorena (Macarena Gómez), who we just know is hiding all kinds secrets that will spill out later — with consequences attached, of course. However, it doesn’t take long for the doctor to encounter his own torment as he gradually uncovers the truth about the Owlman.
The Black Gloves lets its horror unfold at a casual pace, but there’s a dread-inducing aura throughout that’s constantly menacing and truly unnerving. More so than a lot of horror fare, we know that it’s only a matter of time before something bad happens, and that threatening feeling is tangible in every frame. At times the story is a familiar one; the basic setup is that of a traditional haunted house tale, and the tyrannical housekeeper/teacher is a character that’s been explored time and time again. What makes The Black Gloves so unique, apart from being aesthetically removed from contemporary genre trends, is that it bends and twists familiar narratives to explore gender politics and human nature. There’s a lot to unpack here, and while interpretations will vary, come the end you’ll undoubtedly be left with plenty of food for thought.
What I love most about Hex’s films is that they evoke a bygone — and better — era of cinema. But not in a way that panders to audiences hungry for the type of sentimental nostalgia that’s commonplace in modern throwback horror. Stylistically, The Black Gloves a pure love letter to everything from Swan Lake ballet, to gothic chillers, costume dramas, and film noir; fans of Jack Clayton, James Whale, Mario Bava, and Alfred Hitchcock will undoubtedly marvel at the sheer beauty and spectacle of it all, and rightfully so. Gavin Robertson and Michael Brewster’s cinematography is a visual treat, while the authentic costumes and background dressings only add to the film’s ability to transport you into its nightmarish world.
All of this makes for a truly immersive experience, spearheaded by a cast who all bring their A-game and make the otherworldly factors at play seem grounded in reality. Gomez steals the show as the bewitching Lorena, though Hulme and Gordon are just as impressive in their own right and their budding romance lends the story some emotional gravitas. And it gets emotional — trust me. It also doesn’t hurt that Hulme is a trained dancer, which makes for some outstanding ballet sequences that impress and terrify in equal measure.
Overall, The Black Gloves is another highly impressive effort from an independent juggernaut that continues that continues to ascend. It’s only a matter of time before Hex crosses over and puts British horror on the global map. Until then, pick up this release and support independent cinema at its best.
As is the case with all of Hex’s home media releases, the three-disc set is packed with extras — in fact, the features alone make it a worthy addition to your collection if you’re in any way interested in Hex’s unique brand of fantastical horror and the mythology that fuels it.
The Cult of the Owlman featurette, for example, is a superb documentary which explores Moloch’s storied history and his impact on our world throughout the ages. Elsewhere, Tales of the Owlman offers brand new terror tales centered around our favourite feathery fiend. Brewster hosts both featurettes and spices them up with some spooky theatrics. These were the highlight for me personally.
There is also a behind the scenes documentary and interviews with cast and crew, all of which shed some light on the making-of process. Furthermore, if you enjoy the prank videos that made the Owlman a viral sensation, you’ll be pleased to know that his mischievous side is featured in the extras as well. Finally, a soundtrack CD is included for all your musical needs, and given that the score is rather splendid, it’s a welcome addition. All in all, the special features are more than satisfying.