Harry Payne, a reformed gangster, has retired to the country town Norfolk just in time for a slew of disturbing, occult-related murders.
Harry Payne (Tony Scannell) has just served ten years in prison for the murder of his boss and best friend, Eugene McCann (P.H. Moriarity). Judging by all the tremulous, violent flashback sequences, you‚Äôd guess that Harry‚Äôs still‚ÄĒwell‚ÄĒhaunted by his past. ‚ÄúI lost everything when I pulled that trigger,‚ÄĚ he says. And it‚Äôs true: not only did he land in the Big Time, he scarred himself emotionally, and drove his wife, Susan (Katy Manning), batty.
His wife‚Äôs condition is part of the reason he‚Äôs moved to the country town Norfolk. She‚Äôs there and he wants to live near her. He‚Äôs also long dreamed of owning his own pub. Well, now he does (amazing what you can accomplish from a prison cell, isn‚Äôt it?). But rural life isn‚Äôt what it‚Äôs cracked up to be for Harry. There are certain kinds of people in Norfolk, heavily made-up, drunk types, singing ‚ÄúHey DJ, hey DJ,‚ÄĚ who wander into forests and get disemboweled with scythes.
Could it be the same demons from Evil Dead committing these murders? No, it‚Äôs just the Sam Raimi ‚Äúram-o-cam‚ÄĚ technique being ripped off for the six-hundredth time.
Payne has a bad reputation in town. It‚Äôs not surprising, then, that local law enforcement, headed by Inspector Bracken (Graham Cole), suspects him of these scythe murders. Bracken fails to recognize, though, that Harry‚Äôs more of a baseball bat and .38 type. The scythe . . . that sounds more like a weapon for a freaky local legend come to life‚ÄĒthe White Lady of Rayleton, maybe. Oh . . . what do you know?
Did I mention Harry Payne is psychic? Well, he is.
The best thing about The Haunting of Harry Payne: it runs a mere 73 minutes. The worst thing: those 73 minutes feel like a purgatorial eternity.
The flick‚Äôs not all bad, though. Don‚Äôt get me wrong. The make-up effects are good and grotesque. Tony Scannell gives a well-conceived performance. Enough that we don‚Äôt need all the jarring flashback sequences to explain his character. Scannell is a good enough actor, conveying all he needs with facial expressions and line delivery. They don‚Äôt skimp on those flashbacks, though. No-oh. And each one is more loud, visually manipulated, and annoying than the last.
Really, the atmosphere is the movie‚Äôs strongest asset; budgetary constraints be damned, The Haunting of Harry Payne has an effective, dark vibe. Everything‚Äôs foggy and damp. Every character looks pallid, depressed, gritty. And the slasher movie-influenced perspectival camerawork‚ÄĒyou know, seeing the victim through the predator‚Äôs eyes‚ÄĒthat whole thing‚ÄĒmakes for some good, creepy scenes.
It‚Äôs unfortunate, though, that this atmosphere is wasted highlighting a convoluted mess. It only takes about fifteen minutes to realize the Robert Ludlum-style pacing is being used for a terribly simplistic‚ÄĒand underdeveloped, ill-conceived, hackneyed‚ÄĒplot. It‚Äôs supposed to be a character study with some freaky occult killings tacked on, isn‚Äôt it? Why, then, is it cut like The Bourne Identity?
And Harry Payne‚Äôs character, despite the good acting, is totally unbelievable: brutal in his past, humane in his present. Why, Harry Payne has undergone a sea change! He‚Äôs performed a correctional three-sixty. He‚Äôs nice now! Come on. Don‚Äôt you want an archetypal, born gangster, who has reformed, but has weaved his past violence into his present sense of self? The kind that says, yeah, I did it. So what? And not the kind that says, I could really use some psychotropic drugs right now; I‚Äôve been a horrible person‚ÄĒmy poor wife. The old Harry we see in the flashbacks and the new Harry are simply too disparate for us to buy into, and thus, sympathize with.
Its genre-bending is uneven, too. Is it a gangster movie? A slasher movie? A ghost story? A murder mystery? A psychological thriller? It has no postmodern nudge-nudge-wink-wink to effectively weave these different genres and sub-genres together. It leaves you saying: pick a trope, already! Leave genre deconstruction to Quentin Tarantino and Takashi Miike!
Overall, The Haunting of Harry Payne spreads itself too thin; it tries too hard to be more than it is. Like the Firesign Theatre said: how can you be in two places at once when you‚Äôre not anywhere it all? And it‚Äôs so cold and takes itself so seriously. How about a moment of levity? Jeez. I‚Äôd recommend this movie to masochists only‚ÄĒand patient ones at that.