This visually striking Welsh drama from director Gareth Bryn prevails at establishing a haunted ambience and fantastic characters via strong performances, but it suffers from a sauntering second act and awkwardly jimmied in genre staples.
The story of twenty-something couple Iwan (Dyfan Dwyfor) and Sara (Annes Elwy), who crash their car into a ravine then find themselves taken in by local autistic farmer Stanley (Mark Lewis Jones), is a slender yet absorbing tale with curious latter half twists, some of which work but others are contrived and asinine. Its sumptuous cinematography and sterling drama, mined by Bryn, are hindered by hackneyed horror attributes. These are clumsily woven to make the plot more interesting but inadvertently cheapen the gravitas instilled by some excellent, character complexities, while its glum second half induces light tedium.
Forlorn shots of characters staring woefully into the distance while reflecting in a room with cracked walls seems like an over-familiar art-house staple. To maybe unjustly over-analyse one moment: local mud-shuffler Stanley gazes for too long at his hard-boiled egg before slowly slicing the top off in a scene that seems painfully elongated and rather self-indulgent. The volume is amplified so we can hear every (what should be) inaudible shell fracture, followed by the slow splurging spoon scoop; but why? Most likely to place the viewer in the mind-set of a protagonist, who spends most of his time in total silence.
This emphasises Stanley’s routine monotony and the enormity of two new people who enter his life under such dramatic circumstances, but it’s a familiar art-house trope that tinkers too close to parody and should have been crafted with greater ingenuity or in a more intriguing way. This moment illustrates one of The Passing’s problems. Even though it seems slightly unfair to linger on one particular scene over its many immense achievements, it did rather irk.
Outstanding editing, lighting, cinematography (sun-kissed flowing streams in the autumn) while a truly electrifying score by Isobel Griffiths and Mark Wyllie governs/ augment the odd, uneasy mood, along with the excellent performances (particularly from Mark Lewis Jones) and stimulating settings. There’s nothing like a dark room lit up by the lonely glow of a candle to make one go all balmy and cautious.
The Passing works wonders as a drama but when trying to frighten it feels slightly trite and trope laden. Incorporated horror clichés include: characters disappearing behind wind-swept white laundry on a washing line and the old “character closing the mirrored cabinet door to reveal someone standing behind them” routine, along with another massive chestnut that I probably shouldn’t mention. Some anarchic outdoor nudity/ sex also feels absurd given the context of the setting and situation. They should probably be ashamed of themselves. The Passing slides into a cinematic sigh for quite some time until latter half plot twists arrive and inspire.
Despite a slink into horror humdrum, the production is adorned by many (mostly) redeeming facets and it’s stirring, evocative and visually pristine. The cast may mope about dimly lit rooms for far too long in the middle but characters develop accordingly and twists soon occur.
The Passing passes time as nothing more than a curious fusion that could have been greater had the script been slightly tighter and governed by a stronger central storyline with less genre clichés. Its sauntering story stifles suspense while the horror is hackneyed and mired but Gareth Bryn’s film is frequently rousing, redolent, eerily handsome and sometimes slightly unsettling, if not inherently dynamic.