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The Holding (2011)
Director: Susan Jacobson

review by Paul Higson

In earlier horror thrillers logic was a strange bedfellow and therefore rarely courted. Irrational behaviour, discrepancies, failings of continuity, and anachronisms were allowable by both filmmakers and audience. The simpler demands in Universal and Hammer horrors were on being entertained, often on a budget, and to this end the money shots might be the monsters and the splash of blood, something outside normal to take you away from the everyday. Films don't have to be perfect and errors do exist and continue to be excused if the overall movie succeeds in its quota of chuckles and chills. This equation is calculated on a semi-conscious level.

Think about it too much and the film is a failure. One would think that a trail of inconsistencies in a purportedly straight thriller would be noticeable and count against it. Not in the case of James Watkins' Eden Lake which, for this reviewer, was a cataract of nonsense. Susan Jacobson's The Holding, still awaiting the body of reviews at present, has this in common with Eden Lake, a straight thriller in which common sense and timing missteps become more noticeable than, but also because of, its routine storytelling.

The usual gaggle of production companies (Pistachio Pictures, Notorious Films, Gateway Films, Leopardrama) came together to push out this modestly budgeted farmyard thriller. The remote location keeps it a quick and contained shoot. Susan Jacobson was drafted in as the director on the strength of her short films, but the single example of that earlier work included on the DVD is One Hundredth Of A Second, a distasteful and unbelievable six-minute nothing about a war photographer (Emma Cleasby of Dog Soldiers) collecting an award for an image of a dead girl.

Jacobson, on her debut feature, does at least show some ability in putting together a swiftly pace and polished looking effort, though this may only mean that she had the support of a highly experienced crew. The sound is another matter and in the early part of the film, both set and filmed in Derbyshire, the accents fly in from every direction, light and thick, and some backtracking may be necessary to make sense of some of the mumbling and muffled dialogue.

The holding of the title is Blackmoor Farm which is struggling in the absence of the father and husband, which leaves mother Cassie (Kirstie Wareing) to run it. There are daily chores for the two girls, 16-year-old Hannah (Skye Lourie), and the much younger Amy (Maisie Lloyd), while there is occasional paid support from veteran farmer and friend of the family, Cooper (David Bradley). The neighbouring farmer, Karsten (Terry Stone, also one of the film's producers), however, is hostile and, either by hook or by crook, wants her land, and, if there is any chance of it, Cassie as well. Up pops Aden (Vincent Regan) an old friend of her husband's, begging of them a night with a roof over his head, which they find themselves unable to refuse following his timely good deed rescue of both a prize cow and her calf during an awkward breach birth.

One night's stay turns into several nights stay and a promise of several weeks graft for bed and meals, Aden nestling down in the shed away from the main house. This obviously displeases Karsten and when the new-born calf is found slaughtered, the household discover their neighbour outside in the company of his farmhand Noah (Jake Curran, most familiar from early episodes of Primeval, until killed by a dodo bite) gloating over the message. Karsten next claims land rights over their access road and things get very ugly for the awkward neighbours when Aden pays them a murderous visit.

Hannah is ever distrustful of Aden, and any man, accusing him of being only interested of getting into her mother's knickers, which to be perfectly honest is an easy guess of any man and potential feelings towards the yummy mummy and her bee-stung lips. The feed deliveryman proves to be as eminently despicable as any man in this rural spot and delivering next door observes the bluebottle indoors air display. Putting the corpses at the door of Aden he attempts blackmail and instead ends up dead in a wheelie bin. The usual family secrets threaten to and do come out, then Aden is finally tumbled for the dangerous douche-bag that he is, the film ending in a rain-swept battle of survival.

The Holding is a ruptured version of Straw Dogs and is hampered repeatedly by a story that contains no surprises, blunders out many bad details and fails to tackle continuity. The impression of the district is that of a small village and surrounding farms where everyone knows one another and their business and yet it takes some time to notice missing people. The fact that feed is delivered to the Karsten Farm informs us that he is a cattle farmer, but we never see the cattle and the longer the farmers are dead the more unfathomable it is that their cattle are not raising concern. There is an opportunity to create hell on the neighbouring farm and its starving and distressed and braying cattle, and the fly-storm around the rotten cadavers in the kitchen, but the opportunity is missed.

Similarly, when threatened with blackmail by the feed deliveryman in the local pub, it occurs while he is collecting drinks for Cassie and the girls. The conversation begins at the bar, transfers to a table (with a cut to) and then to the outside (with another cut away from and unseen murder) and a great amount of time is suggested. Returning to the outside table he makes an excuse about a barrel change but it's remarkable that none of them went to find out what was taking him or question that he could not have returned with the girls' pop at least. Missteps of timing occur throughout and devices to confound an escape at various points may be classic set-pieces but will only work under a more adept hand than this. Instead, it comes out as clunking and only worthy of a guffaw.

The experienced viewer is always one step ahead and has also had time to place themselves in the given situations and make decisions on what their next step would be, and it is never what the movie's victims actually do. Why, with a large hay fork in most shots, is it never realised that it could be more than a prop but the weapon of the day - but instead the family always look for something more obscure to defend themselves with. The viewer should smirk also at a young police officer in guy-liner, the child's clich�d and preposterous bible quoting and the spouting of unfathomable and plain daft bon mots. The rotten casting means that it is some time before the viewer confirms that Wareing is the mother in this house and not some older sister. All of this contributes to the film's failure to engage.

The Holding



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