United States/Italian coproduction Voice from the Stone (2017) is absolutely dazzling to the eye, with exterior scenes drenched in vibrant fall colors, and interior set designs of a weathered mansion meticulously adorned. This Gothic, psychological, supernatural tale is not as strong in the story department, however, but offers enough for aficionados of the genre to warrant a watch.
Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) portrays Verena, a young nurse whose career consists of helping children overcome their ailments and then moving on to her next position, having no further communication with her former charges. She travels to Tuscany, where she is hired by sculptor Klaus (Marton Csokas of the ongoing Into the Badlands television series) to care for his son Jakob (Edward George Dring), who has not spoken in several months, since his concert pianist mother Malvina (Catarina Mureno) died.
Malvina, on her deathbed, asked Jakob to make a promise not to speak until she returned. The boy now listens to the stone walls of the family mansion, a habit of which Verena tries to break him. As she tries to bond with the boy, she becomes attracted to Klaus and finds herself falling deeper into the mysteries of the home, with her rational mind slowly giving way to the possibility of supernatural forces.
Director Eric Dennis Howell, working from a screenplay by Andrew Shaw (who adapts from the novel La Voce Della Pietra by Silvio Raffo), has crafted a gorgeous-looking film that is one of the most beautifully framed and shot works in recent memory. Cinematographer Peter Simonite does splendid work, and the set design and art direction are outstanding. While some rooms in the mansion are immaculately decorated, others are almost bare with moldy walls. The house has a true personality, and all involved are to be commended on that achievement.
Unfortunately, the story will hold few surprises to viewers who are familiar with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Daphne du Maurier, and Henry James. Also, Voice from the Stone seems to focus more on dramatic elements than tension, and no amount of running to a high rooftop or elsewhere while music tries to tell viewers “This is a suspenseful part” fully satisfies.
When Voice from the Stone addresses the sexual tension between the repressed Verena and the frustrated Klaus, it falls into the trappings of bodice rippers and makes the mistake of substituting sex scenes with nudity, as well as an even more out of place masturbation scene, in place of more nuanced ways to express its characters’ desires. With so much subtlety working well elsewhere in the film, these choices seem rather odd.
The performances are generally very good, if sometimes flirting with a bit of scenery chewing, especially with one tantrum scene for each lead character. Emilia Clark is a pleasure to watch as she brings Verena to life with her wide range of facial expressions and a confident air. Martin Sokas is solid as Klaus, whose dominance of the household slowly gives way to desire. Edward George Dring gives a nice turn as Jakob, shooting angry glares with his eyes and showing off other facial and body language tricks in an almost wordless performance.
Although Voice from the Stone has occasional story line flaws and head-scratching choices, it is worth a viewing for its sumptuous visuals, intriguing performances, and Eric Dennis Howell’s eye and flair for direction. Some viewers may be familiar with the content, but the stunning look of it all is reason enough to watch.
Voice from the Stone screened at Frightfest, held August 24-28.