I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Editor
VOICE FROM THE STONE, which premieres tonight at the USA Film Festival (Apr. 26-30), is disguised as a dark, bad dream that oozes with creepiness.
If you’ve seen the film’s trailer, the chilling sound effects, the large castle setting and story of a house full of secrets lead one to believe they’re about to watch many things go bump in the night. But VOICE FROM THE STONE is rather a “haunting romance” than a genre film, as director Eric D. Howell justly stated in a recent interview.
“[The script] spoke to me when I first read it, because it’s a story that centers on the idea of love, loss and grief, and how they go hand in hand with fear,” Howell said. “We weren’t going for a straight genre film, because this is a difficult film to pin down. If anything, it’s a haunting romance.”
Based on Silvio Raffo’s 1997 novel, VOICE FROM THE STONE stars Emilia Clarke (GAME OF THRONES) as Verena, a nurse in 1950s Italy who is brought in to help comfort a young boy (Edward Dring) mourning the death of his mother (Caterina Murino). But as the plot drives forward and the child exhibits strange behavior, Verena begins to wonder if there’s something more sinister going on within the walls of the boy’s home.
“People are either going to really get [what we’re going for] or hate it,” Howell said. “This kind of movie is a challenging line to walk as a filmmaker. Hopefully audiences will go on this journey with its characters and not wish they were watching a quick, in-and-out jump-scare movie. This is a very maternal story. It’s a love letter to mothers.”
Taking inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock (REBECCA) and Guillermo del Toro (CRIMSON PEAK), who are both masters of deception, Howell doesn’t follow too far behind their storytelling methods with Voice from the Stone. Like those celebrated filmmakers, Howell is old school in his framing and camera moves. This form allows the stakes to operate at full throttle, giving the narrative real human emotion.
“Visiting Italy is not like visiting another country; it’s like visiting an emotion. There’s so much texture, art and mythology around every corner. So you can’t help but have it all wrap around you and affect every decision you make,” Howell said.
Clearly, shooting in Italy made a significant impact on the film’s emotional weight and tone, with the castle as the prime suspect. Howell shot the castle in two separate locations: Castello di Celsa, southeast of Siena, stood in for the exteriors, while the interiors were filmed at Castello di Montecalvello, in the province of Viterbo, owned by the family of Polish-French modern artist Balthus.
Though initially unpromising for the director, the bright white interiors of Montecalvello ended up serving the story quite well.
“Here we are doing this dark ghost story about grief, yet we have these bright walls,” Howell exclaimed. “Oddly enough, though, it made the walls appear as if they were alive. The castle was built for light and to follow the sun, and it made them glow and feel haunted.”
The script may occasionally suffer from cheesy romance fare, most notably one sequence involving the boy’s father (Marton Csokas) chiseling a stone sculpture during one erotic sequence. Thankfully, Howell infuses the atmosphere with so much passion and dark secrecy that it’s easy to forgive the occasional loose brick in its foundation.
Information on other screenings at the USA Film Festival, which runs through Sunday in Dallas, can be found at usafilmfestival.com. VOICE FROM THE STONE opens Friday at Harkins Southlake Town Center 14 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and will also be available on video on demand.