MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Voice from the Stone’ is a gripping, slow-burn descent

Bolstered by Emilia Clarke’s powerful performance and some absolutely beautiful production values, Eric Dennis Howell’s period thriller satisfies, even in its messier parts

| May 3, 2017

Sometimes, I miss seeing some key movies in theaters, whether it be a large blockbuster like “The Fate of the Furious,” or smaller indie films like “Your Name,” I often find myself with too little time and/or money to catch every single movie I want to see in theaters. Yet, strangely, I find myself reviewing more video-on-demand (VOD) movies more than my theatrical track record would suggest. While I might not always have the time to head to Ballantyne to check out the latest indie fare, it’s becoming increasingly easier to catch many movies at home, albeit not of the same notoriety. “Voice from the Stone” is one of those films, but this one shares the clear distinction of being the first film I’ve ever watched on a plane; more specifically a flight from Charlotte to St. Louis (I’m writing this review on a Caravan flight from St. Louis to Jackson, Tenn.). It’s easy to scoff at VOD movies if you watch the wrong ones, but if you seek out the right ones, you can find some hidden gems.

“Voice from the Stone” is a hidden gem; a gem with flaws, but a gem.

In 1950’s Tuscany, Verena (Emilia Clarke), a children’s nurse is called to live with a wealthy family in the Tuscan countryside after the death of the family matriarch (Caterina Murino). Headed by the intense patriarch, Klaus (Martin Csokas), Verena is called in reference to the only child of the family, Jakob (Edward George Dring), who has become mute since the tragic passing of his mother. Tasked with improving Jakob’s health and state of mind to get him to speak again, Verena soon finds Jakob speaking to the wall, verbally insisting that his mother speaks to him. While Verena writes this off as mental trauma from his mother’s death, she soon begins to realize that Jakob might not be so wrong after all.

Okay, so I have a little bone to pick with “Voice from the Stone,” if only due to the complete mismarketing of the film. While the film does feature a ghost story at is core, most of the film is actually spent with Verena as she seeks to get Jakob to speak again. Much of the film focuses on the mystery of Jakob’s condition and the enigmatic nature of the house and family surrounding it. For someone entering the film expecting more of a traditional ghost story, I was surprised to find it being more slow-burn than one might expect. If you’re going to go full “Personal Shopper,” own it.

Yet, don’t misconstrue this, I actually enjoyed “Voice from the Stone” quite a bit. It’s not perfect in any regard, but for a VOD thriller, it’s quite lush and interesting. While Clarke is a well-known actress, known for her role as Danaerys Targareyan on the smash HBO hit “Game of Thrones” and as Sarah Connor in the failed reboot that was “Terminator: Genisys” (though she holds blockbuster hope in the Han Solo origin story at LucasFilm), I would go so far to say that this is Clarke’s best performance to date, and easily is the best part about “Voice from the Stone.” While Clarke is among the horde of pretty white British girls that pervade media today, Clarke brings a certain darkness in her presence that someone like Felicity Jones or Emma Watson don’t quite bring in their performances. Clarke really handles much of the dark material and physicality that this film calls for with a really powerful prowess that I don’t think another actress would’ve been able to pull off. Also impressive is her use of the Italian language in the film. Rather than the film simply refusing to acknowledge that the language exist so the characters can speak English, the English-language element of the film is an actual plot point that gives Clarke and the rest of the cast the chance to flex their Italian language skill impressively.

Supporting cast pale in comparison to Clarke, but still do nice work. Csokas is a nicely deep, if a bit cliché patriarch trope seen before. Still, I was surprised at the level of sensitivity that the film gave to Csokas rather than just sitting around as a bitter patriarch.

Directed by Eric Dennis Howell (typically a stunt coordinator on bigger films), the film is an incredibly lush and beautiful film that uses just as much of its atmosphere as a resource as it does Clarke. Set in a massive Tuscan manor, the film doesn’t seek to constrict the characters inside the stone walls of this haunted (figuratively and literally) house, but expands to the massive grounds of the entire estate, with a sense of overwhelming scale that makes you feel just as small and helpless as Verena. Everything from the production design, to the costume design, editing, cinematography and color grading is all simply fabulous and creates a lush, beautiful and charismatic environment that feels just as much as a character as Verena.

Not everything in “Voice from the Stone” is perfect. While the film is a slow-burn, it does spend quite a big chunk of the film in what seems to be a build up to some sort of event that doesn’t really ever happen. In fact, the final 10 minutes of this film were a bit confusing, at least on the choices made by the writer in the conclusion. The lead up to the final sequence felt a bit rushed, as if a scene had been cut out from the previous scene to that one, and then the final resolution of the film felt a bit muddled and messy, even if its distinction was clearly made. It just felt unnecessary and a bit droll. The film also introduces a romantic plot that doesn’t really hold much relevance, and it’s been so long since I’ve had to deal with an unnecessary romance that I’m a bit unsure what to do with it.

Call it “Jane Eyre” meets “The Haunting of Hill House,” whatever you want to call it, “The Voice from the Stone” works surprisingly well. Clarke is an absolute vision as Verena and the film’s production values are second-to-none when it comes to European period pieces. I’m a bit surprised that the film wasn’t released into more theaters by a bigger distributor, but even with its release now, many are finding the film polarizing, possibly due to the film’s final act. Nevertheless, it’s hard to complain with a few plot points when the film surrounding it is as carefully tailored as “Voice from the Stone” is.

3.5/5

Photo courtesy of Entertainment One

Directed by: Eric Dennis Howell
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Marton Csokas, Caterina Murino, Remi Girone, Maria Gastoni, Edward George Dring.
Runtime: 90 minutes
Rating: R for some sexuality/nudity.
Now playing in select theaters and video-on-demand.

Momentum Pictures presents, in association with Producer Capital Fund, in co-production with Code 39 Films, a Zanuck Independent film, “Voice from the Stone”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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