This is a curiously old-fashioned thriller -- bloodless in every sense of the word -- directed by Anthony Hickox (son of Douglas Hick of “Theatre of Blood” fame), who is probably best known for having helmed one of the Hellraiser sequels, “Hellraiser: Hell on Earth”. Cheaply-made and with a screenplay so stuffed with clichés it's difficult to know how we're meant to take it, “Knife Edge” retains an odd sort of charm nonetheless; even if its clichés are -- themselves -- the quaintly old-fashioned clichés of a film very much older than its year of production would suggest.
But is it meant as deliberate homage to the ‘mini Hitchcock’ thrillers of yesteryear? Once churned out by the dozen by Hammer Productions during the '60s and early '70s, these black & white twist-ridden mysteries always relied on minor variations of this exact same plot. Or is it simply a straightforward case of a hackneyed screenplay, unimaginatively directed, with a distinct lack of original ideas to make up for its deficiencies in budget? Whichever is the case, younger viewers will almost certainly find this supernatural mystery thriller pretty stodgy and unrewarding fare; any business it does drum up will undoubtedly come from older genre fans who see in the film echoes of classic British Horror and Italian gialli, although in the final analysis it plays more like a minor 1980s episode of “Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense”, or Brian Clemens' 1970s anthology series “Thriller”.
A successful Wall street analyst moves to the heart of the English countryside with her French husband Henri (Matthieu Boujenah) and her six year-old son from a previous marriage, Thomas (Miles Ronayne). The rambling manor house, bought by Henri as a surprise for new wife Emma (Natalie Press), soon turns out to be host to all sorts of du Maurier-esque Gothic standbys: secret plastered-up rooms that hint at a dark past; a crumbling outhouse, inside which is found a strange, eyeless broken doll; decaying park grounds that lead to darkening woods; an aged housekeeper/nanny (Joan Plowright) who turns up unannounced as though she has always belonged with the house; and twisting corridors that resound to the ghostly, echoing cries of a distressed child. Soon Emma, left alone with only her son (who seems to spend his time communicating with an imaginary friend through the weird doll) while her husband is at work, starts to believe that the house is haunted. Her career on the stock market floor was always abetted by a kind of 'second sight' but now she's having flashes and visions of a horrific crime that might have taken place long ago -- or, perhaps, has still yet to occur. Meanwhile, her husband is in dire financial straits and it soon looks like his only way out of his predicament is to have his increasingly disturbed wife declared unfit to control the trust that's been left in her name.
Natalie Press, who plays the beleaguered heroine of the piece, is a potentially fine young actress who has appeared in the BBC's recent excellent adaptation of “Bleak House” and the low-key psychological thriller “Song of Songs”; but here she is forced to play out many an awkward scene that tend towards looking more like glossy, melodramatic 1980s soap opera. There is a particularly ridiculous sequence near the beginning when Emma, the stock market trader with near-psychic insight, makes an unexpected decision that nets her firm a huge profit, and leads to the usually frantic traders on the market floor (all rolled-up shirt sleeves and red braces) stop what they're doing to give her a standing ovation and a round of applause while the orchestra strings swell appreciatively on the soundtrack!
The rest of the cast is largely made up of a weird hodgepodge of callow unknowns and stately veterans you haven't seen on screen for years. Hugh Bonneville plays Emma's apparently solid and reliable former husband, but an unfortunate resemblance to disgraced royal butler, Paul Burrell, lends him an air of untrustworthy sliminess well before the true nature of his role in the plot is revealed. Joan Plowright phones in her slender role — a stereotypical, apparently friendly housekeeper type, but with a she-might-know-more-than-she's-letting-on vibe about her character which doesn't exactly give her too much to get her teeth into. The film even has it own annoying kid character, in the form of Emma's son Thomas. He gives Giovanni Frezza a run for his money in the “child actors you'd most like to punch'” stakes!
The haunted house plot revolves around Emma's psychic visions, some of which turn out to be induced by someone injecting mescaline into her sleeping pills; its largely a re-heated version of the plot from Lucio Fulci's "Seven Notes in Black" (although I'll wager this was almost certainly unintentional) where the visions that appear to uncover a past crime, are actually a premonition of a future event. It's not exactly ruining the film to highlight this, since Plowright's character ponders over whether it might be the case at one point, quite early on -- immediately giving the whole thing away! Actually, this idea has appeared many times before, and as a matter of fact, one of the most haunting realisations of it came in a story from "Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense" (ironically enough) called “In Possession”, which was directed by Hammer veteran Val Guest. Recently (perhaps inspired by that old TV episode), writer Stephen Volk utilised the idea most effectively in “Sleeping with the Enemy”: an episode of his ITV supernatural drama “Afterlife”.
There is some very artificial-looking yet not entirely rubbish CGI work used for some of the dream visions, involving a tree coming to life which, later, yields a clue to the mystery — but mostly these visions rely on some incredibly predictable devices: there is even a something-nasty-suddenly-appears-in-the-bathroom-mirror ‘scare sequence’, surely the millionth time this hoary old 'scare' must have been essayed on screen! We get the standard bath tub scene as well, where someone lies back and submerges themselves fully beneath the water (who the hell ever does this in real life?) only to splutter horribly as a presence suddenly looms above them, etcetera and so forth. Along with all the gialli tropes (you've undoubtedly recognised them from the above summery) and Gothic manor house clichés, its never too difficult to predict where this thriller is heading; Hickox throws in a few knowing quotations to Hitchcock and Kubrick (blatantly recreating a classic scene from "The Shining" as the killer hacks through a bedroom door while Emma cowers on the other side), but mostly the film just settles for trotting through familiar standard set-pieces without deviation. And yet, I still kind of enjoyed it, I have to admit! Although it's clearly more a guilty pleasure with a little naive charm than a truly hidden gem.
Scanbox present the film with a fairly decent looking transfer, but as far as I know (I had only an early check disc for review purposes) it features no extras whatsoever.