The Halfway House (1944 dir. Basil Dearden)–Movie Review

The Halfway House (1944 dir. Basil Dearden)–Movie Review

Haunted house movies generally gather a group of people in one place and, in turn, cross-examine each member through a series of apparitions, letting only the virtuous one(s) escape at the end.

The Halfway House bucks that trend. In fact, given that the movie was released in 1944, it bucked the trend well before the trend was established.

The story opens on the lives of several characters: each one facing some dilemma in their personal life, their problems heightened by the anxiety at begin at war with Germany.

Fate brings the characters together at halfway house in Cardiff run by a father and daughter. At the same time the lodgers begin to notice slightly odd things about their hosts, they are gently guided to confront their anxieties in the hopes of leaving the house renewed and ready to face the world.

What makes the film refreshing is that the ghosts here don’t scare the lodgers to achieve a change of consciousness, instead they guide them and reassure them.

The film was released a year before World War 2 ended and so one suspects one aim of the film was to provide reassurance to its audience given its uplifting ending.

Ironically, because of this, the film suffers from a lack of tension. The problems the characters face are real enough, but the seeming ease with which the cast is transformed at the end of the movie makes their conflicts seem superficial in retrospect.

Compared against other haunted house tales like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting (1966 dir. Robert Wise) and the travellers-seeking-refuge flick The Old Dark House (1932 dir. James Whale), The Halfway House has not aged well but it does not mean its life-affirming message is any less valid.

The Halfway House is released on DVD and is available to buy from Amazon on June 20.

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