It’s a good job that The Secret of Crickley Hall has a strong cast and an interesting, emotional story, because the spookiness of its first episode is non-existent in tonight’s final instalment.
While some may not like the fact that over three episodes it has transitioned from spooky drama into human drama, it’s not surprising. This is, at its core, a story about a family being allowed to come to terms with the loss of a child, rather than coming to terms with a haunted house like some disgruntled couple on Location, Location, Location.
That’s not to say that Crickley Hall doesn’t try to retain its horror trappings, but this late in the game, when we already know so many of the house’s dark secrets, the fear of the unknown has been completely undermined. The true power of a ghost story lies in the unsolved – the uncanny mystery of the unexplained that lingers in our heads after the credits. There’s none of that here, although credit must go to effects designer Davy Jones (neither of the Locker, nor The Monkees fame) for some true movie-grade prosthetics. It’s a shame that we only caught a fleeting glimpse of Nancy the corpse-ghost.
Instead Crickley Hall unfortunately retreats to the oft-repeated horror trope of ‘The killer is in the house!’ and then decides to go all in by piling on every cliché: dark rooms, thunder and lightning, a severed phone line, and people breathing heavily in cupboards. All it’s lacking is a high-school jock with a bloodied knife between his shoulder blades. But instead of Jason Voorhies we have Donald Sumpter’s Maurice shuffling wearily about the place as an aged child-catcher. It’s not suspenseful in the slightest, but Sumpter gives a lovely nuanced performance as the tired old man who deep down in his soul is still the scared schoolboy tormented by Cribben.
For it’s the human moments that carry greatest emotional heft and leave a more lasting mark. Gabe identifying the body of his son Cam, and Eve’s subsequent reaction to the news is more upsetting than any shock from a spook. Tom Ellis and Suranne Jones have not always been the most convincing married couple, but here their grief is difficult to watch for all the right reasons.
So too is Cribben’s murder of the children, although paradoxically, the more we’ve discovered about him, the more two-dimensional he has become. Only Douglas Henshall’s chilling performance has kept Cribben from being a creaky boogeyman. In the end there is no secret to him as there is to his orphanage; he’s merely a traumatised angry man in life and death. A bottomless well of rage with barely a teardrop’s worth of redemption in him even in his final moments.
The ending strikes the right note of hopeful rather than happy. No easy feat given the death of a child. It’s about laying things, be they ghosts, uncertainties, or bodies, to rest. Like the first breath after the funeral service, it’s a cathartic experience; not something to be celebrated but which is satisfying. And, taking in all three episodes, satisfying is certainly what most will say of The Secret of Crickley Hall.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 2 December 2012 on BBC One.
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