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THE BLACK GLOVES (15)
Director: Lawrie Brewster
Screenplay: Sarah Daly
Review: RJ Bland
Headed up by film-making duo Lawrie Brewster and Sarah Daly, the peeps at Hex Studios have been quietly building a bit of a horror legacy over the last couple of years. Their first release, Lord of Tears (2013) was a hauntingly atmospheric chiller that introduced audiences to a new and rather unsettling boogeyman called the Owl Man. Three years later and The Unkindness of Ravens was unleashed on audiences. Although we didn't really get to see the Owl Man, the film further tapped into the mythology established by its predecessor. The third film of the series, The Black Gloves, promised he'd make a return – but in black and white this time!
The film begins with psyshcologist Finn Galloway (Jamie Scott Gordon) attempting to prevent one of his patients from jumping to her death from the edge of a cliff. She's been having visions of the Owl Man you see, and despite the desperate attempts to persuade her otherwise, she decides to jump. Galloway, riddled with guilt, heads out to a remote Scottish estate to try and locate a once famous ballerina called Elisa Gray (Alexandra Nicole Hulme), who has been suffering from the similar nightmarish visions as his former patient. Once there, Galloway manages to blag his way into staying for a few nights but his access to Elisa is restricted by Elisa's domineering ballet teacher, Lorena Velasco (Macarena Gómez). She's extremely protective of her protege, possessive almost. Galloway's attempts to treat the damaged Elisa are initially thwarted but he gradually begins to realise that the similarities between his new patient and his previous one are uncanny. Maybe the Owl Man is not simply the creation of a troubled mind. Maybe there is more to it than that. On top of that, the house itself seems to be shrouded in mystery. What are those strange noises coming from the basement and why is it sealed up....?
One of the great things about the three films that Hex have produced thus far, is the way they are all very different from one another from a tonal and storytelling perspective. Where the Lord of Tears created an atmosphere of dread, The Unkindness of Ravens presented a hard-to-watch depiction of mental breakdown and paranoia. The slow burning gothic horror that The Black Gloves offers up marks another shift in style. After the full-on madness of Ravens (I'm not writing the full title every time!), this is a sombre and relatively restrained affair in comparison. It feels like a throwback to another era of film-making and one can't help but compare it to classic old ghost stories like The Innocents (1961) and even some of Hitchcock's earlier works.
Despite these stylistic differences, all three films retain classic Hex traits. Brewster's combination of breathtaking scenery and controlled, polished direction is married up with another lean and intelligent script from Daly. All three films are chamber pieces too. All focus on two or three characters and centre them in the eerie but beautiful remoteness of the Scottish highlands. Yet despite the vast expanse of open air and countryside, all three films have an almost stifling, claustrophobic effect. The harshness and isolation of the landscape (and the weather!) forces our protagonists to seek refuge within a single location. Yet as The Black Gloves proves, that's not always a guarantee of safety. In fact, quite the opposite. In all good 'haunted house' movies, the building is a character itself, with its own history and purpose and the Baldurrock Estate is the perfect setting.
For all chamber pieces, the quality of performance from the central characters is paramount to any success and The Black Gloves doesn't disappoint in that respect. The film is essentially a three-hander, with the vast majority of the film focusing on the relationships and growing tensions between Galloway, his new patient Elisa and her rather menacing tutor. Scott Gordon delivers a considered portrays of a man trying to seek some level of redemption, despite the knowledge that continuing down that path may be fraught with peril. Nicole Hulme gives a great physical performance in the role of the once former famous ballet dancer but also manages to convey a sense of damaged fragility too. Galloway's perception of himself as something of a knight in shining armour seem to point towards a relatively straightforward narrative but it doesn't always quite play out as you think. The films and era of film-making that The Black Gloves doffs it cap to may be perfectly happy with the 'damsel-in-distress'formula but Daly's script is thoroughly more modern and serpentine.
It is Gomez however who kind of steals the show. Her ferociously stern taskmaster is a great contrast to the subtlety of Scott Gordon's conflicted psychologist. She has the ability to charm and terrify at a moments notice and she's one of those actors who you can't take your eyes off when they're on screen.
Of course, The Black Gloves won't satisfy horror fans who crave visceral horror. The Black Gloves is a bit more understated than that – and although there are some moments of violence, most of the horror here comes from a carefully crafted atmosphere and intrigue. For the discerning horror fan with a soft spot for classic horror, this won't disappoint.
The Black Gloves is an astutely made gothic horror that feels like a throwback to another era of horror long gone, and sadly missed. The slow-burn pacing and lack of traditional 'scares' may mean it's not everyone's cup of tea - but the intelligent script, polished direction and great central performances all add up to another fantastically well-made and stimulating addition to the Owl Man franchise.
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