The Gathering (2003) *


Unexceptional but pleasing spook stuff with a sturdy British cast (every second Robert Hardy's on screen is a pleasure) made by the Granada company after the surprise success of The Hole. But lightning didn't strike twice on this occasion, commercially speaking, though the same basic rules are applied: it failed to find distribution and turned up on DVD nearly ten years after it was made.

Christina Ricci, the American import this time out, looks great striding through the unusual and effective Isle of Man locations; the supporting cast are an earnest and well-chosen assortment in the best Hammer tradition, and the screenplay by children's author Anthony Horowitz is efficient and entirely generic, with echoes of everything from American Werewolf and The Wicker Man to The Omen and Quatermass and the Pit. I suppose it's a near-definitive example of that most despised hybrid: the horror film that horror enthusiasts look down on because it is geared to people who don't usually like 'that sort of thing'. But it is emphatically better than any of the new Hammer films, and exactly the kind of film, I'd have thought, that they should be making: linear horror stories with modern contexts but reassuring generic conventions left unviolated, and with classy leads, a good rustic chorus, and a strong British identity.