On Friday, August 24, a select group of people, myself included, had the privilege of attending the premiere of Lost Hearts, the first solo project by Torquay filmmaker Ed Chappell.
Held at the Exeter Phoenix Centre, several of the film’s cast and crew were in attendance, including boom operator Jon Cook and leading actors Chesney Fawkes-Porter, Sam Morgan and James Cotter.
Ed’s modest introduction belied that fact that Lost Hearts is a genuinely accomplished piece of filmmaking for one so young. An updated version of MR James’ chilling ghost story, Porter stars as a young boy named Stephen who is sent to stay with a mysterious relative (Morgan) following a dispute between his parents. Whilst at the mysterious house (naturally), he becomes suspicious of past events, namely the disappearance of two children…
In all, Lost Hearts is paced efficiently and, considering it was made for no money and constructed piecemeal fashion over a limited time, remarkably coherent. From the off, Stephen’s character is effectively sketched both visually and through Porter’s performance. Morgan is a wonderfully gravel-voiced enigma as the mysterious relative, while Bryony Reynolds makes for a sympathetic figure as Morgan’s wife. Cotter’s role as the archetypal gruff gardener offers a smidgen of light relief.
Lost Hearts demonstrates Chappell’s instinctive flair for visual storytelling and confidence with actors. Encouraged to take the project on due to his father’s enthusiasm for the story, his familiarity with the themes of James’ text is plain to see. Particularly impressive is the visualisation of nature as a potentially malevolent force (a recurring theme in James’ work): the swaying cornfields and whispering trees captured in and around Torquay speak of spectral forces.
The outdoor scenes are wonderfully contrasted with the claustrophobic interiors (shot in Chappell’s own house). Images such as a silhouetted profile of a figure standing against a window demonstrate an intuitive understanding of genre conventions, and the film is infused with a dreamy haze. Regardless of whether this was intentional or a result of the limitations placed on the filmmakers, it works brilliantly. Similarly, there is real confidence in the way the ambient soundtrack works quietly on the nerves, occasional 60s records weaving in and out of the soundscape and lending a nostalgic sense of menace to proceedings.
Of course, the limitations imposed on the production mean it can never properly scare or horrify in the manner of James’ original story. The key revelations in the text demand a make-up crew to bring the true horror to life, as anyone who’s seen the original BBC adaptation will know. Likewise, the basic sound equipment used often results in saturation from the wind, which deafens when one requires a quiet chill up the spine.
However, this is not a criticism of the filmmakers, more a matter of circumstance. Considering it was made for no money, Lost Hearts is confidently told and visually appealing, so much so that it just about gets away with wrapping up the mystery in a climactic exposition sequence. Again, this is a direct result of limited resources – it’s not possible to fully visualise what’s going on but the film nevertheless makes a decent fist of it. The Torquay locations are used brilliantly, the decision to update the story is respectful and the performances are compelling.
Where will Ed go from here? Watch this space… In the meantime, here’s the trailer for Lost Hearts.