The Haunting of Helena tells the story of a little girl living with her mother in Italy after her parents’ divorce. Life is stressful and there are hardships in their lives. Soon, like any normal child, Helena starts losing a couple of teeth and believes that the real Tooth Fairy is visiting her at night, leaving old coins and even asking her to buy lost teeth from other children at school. Is she just a child with a vivid imagination or is something far more sinister at work?
Sabrina Jolie Perez plays Helena and at times nails her performance. She’s creepy and naively upsets her mother. She says what’s on her mind even if it makes no sense and places doubt on her sanity or even innocence in the eyes of her mother. There were a few moments in which things felt forced or not as well acted on her part, but being that this is literally her first outing in professional acting I can let it slide. Along for the ride is Harriet MacMasters-Green, who plays Sophia, Helena’s mother.
In hopes of discovering what is plaguing her daughter she gets swept up in a mystery involving their new home, and really anything else that may lead to answers. Why this woman feels the need to start investigating anything at first is a little far-fetched. There is nothing that would suggest it is anything more than Helena’s imagination. MacMasters-Green’s performance is fairly standard, but the character is one we’ve seen a hundred times over: The concerned mother who is investigating everything whether it’s supernatural or not. There isn’t much else she could do with it.
The best parts of film are the back story/mystery and the imagery. Throughout the film there were some great creepy moments and effects. It really brought the film up at times. Unfortunately the script is too poor to make it anything other than just an OK horror movie that isn’t worth much more than a rental. Its biggest weakness was relying on the same old clichés and having time jumps in the story. Things start to seemingly escalate quickly, but it’s only when characters mention that a few months have gone by that it makes sense. It is never clear how long the characters are dealing with a certain problem until someone opens their mouth to let us in on it. It is weak story telling and I would have preferred something with more suspenseful build-up. It starts off nicely and gets weaker as the film progresses.
The Haunting of Helena has a strange mash-up of styles. With its muted palette of grays and subdued colors, it has the look of every other independent horror movie of the last decade and also doesn’t make it much scarier than an episode of A Haunting. Although the dialogue is spoken completely in English, there is a lot of nice Italian architecture and characteristics that makes for an interesting watch. Other than some of the characters having accents, or things being written in Italian, you’re never really aware of where the film is taking place. I kind of dug that. A familiar yet, almost other-worldly setting.
I will give credit to the final climax. Some interesting turns in the story and some fairly exciting and suspenseful moments made up for some of the dragging plot.
One moment that I found silly: Sophia runs into an old man who lives in their apartment building. He begins to speak to her and she’s actually shocked to learn that he speaks English. The line makes almost no sense being that every single person that she has had a conversation with (either for the first time or not) has spoken English. I just found it really weird that she’d take this time to call someone out for not speaking Italian, when not one other person had been, but I digress…
I had pretty high hopes for this movie. It got a lot of great buzz before and after its limited release last year, but clearly 2013 was the year of the blockbuster horror movie rather than the independent. It’s been a long time since I have felt that was the case. The Haunting of Helena had a lot of potential. The possibility of a murderous Tooth Fairy, a crazy kid, a mental institution and a WWII-era torture-murder are all elements that could make for a truly terrifying film, but this ended up being not much greater than that other Tooth Fairy dud, Darkness Falls.
So while I didn’t hate The Haunting of Helena like some of the other films I’ve reviewed recently, it wasn’t as good as it should have been. I obviously have very mixed feelings on this one.
The Haunting of Helena was directed by Christian Bisceglia and Ascanio Malgarini. It was released on DVD September 17, 2013 and is now available on Netflix streaming.