Review: ‘The Boathouse’ cribs from some classics to create an atmospheric horror story

There’s a scene in the middle of The Boathouse in which the characters discuss a case of plagiarism over dinner. One character, a professor, tells the story of a student who copied a work by Joyce and then feigned ignorance. “If you’re going to steal,” he says, “maybe steal from someone more obscure.” This leads into an entire discussion of theft vs influence and how all of that shapes art and literature.

It’s a startlingly relevant scene as well because The Boathouse either –depending on your point of view– borrows from or is influenced very heavily by some classics, most notably the work of Henry James and Alfred Hitchcock. Do you know why these influences are classics, though? Because they’re good.

This film picks up with a young student Anne (Michaela Kurimsky), taking on the role of nanny to the two children of a novelist, Dominic (Alan van Spring). Emily and Leon (Taylor Belle and Jack Fulton) live at their father’s lake house, and their mother has recently departed to parts unknown.

Given the influences I cited, it’s not hard to guess some of the places this will go. Anne is emotionally fragile and finds it difficult to get along with the children, who are creepy. She also has a fraught history with their mother, a concert pianist who stole one of Anne’s compositions.

While you might have some guesses about where things might go, there’s no denying that director Hannah Cheesman has crafted an atmospheric and tense horror film. She has a clear and confident idea of how things should be shot and knows how to get the performances she wants out of her actors. Michaela Kurmisky, in particular, is excellent as Anne, flitting back and forth between broken, fragile, and confident with ease. Her performance is easily one of the high points of the film.

Still, there are those influences I mentioned, and when you learn that much of the plot revolves around a boathouse and that kids are creepy, you might be able to guess where things are going. Even if you are, though, Kurmisky is so good and the film so well shot that while it’s not perfect, it’s still a fun watch.

Rating: 3/5

The Boathouse is in select theatres tonight -December 13th– only before debuting on-demand tomorrow, December 14th.


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