Lila (Jennifer Nichole Porter) lives with her husband in a picturesque house hidden in the countryside, unable to leave the premises without suffering severe panic attacks. The only person Lila speaks with is her husband Samuel (Eric Schweig), a barrel-chested lumber worker, unable to penetrate her self-constructed wall of idle pleasantries and hollow smiles.
Enter Mr. Barrington (Brian McCardie). One ordinary afternoon, he rides up to Lila’s door on an antique bicycle, taking a comedic pratfall off it in order to illicit laughter from the sullen woman. Before long, however, with increasingly frequent visits, Mr. Barrington transforms from a playful entity to a controlling force from her past, sending Lila into a state of physical and psychological turmoil.
Dana Packard’s directorial debut is a visually appealing, well-told New England ghost story. Shot in Maine at the house he shares with Jennifer Nichole Porter (who starred in, scored, and co-produced the film, and also wrote the movie’s screenplay), Mr. Barrington had its New England premiere at the first annual Independent Film Festival of Boston. The festival was held May 1 – 4 this year at the Somerville, Coolidge Corner, and Brattle Theatres, and showcased over forty short and feature-length movies.
Packard and Porter’s film is the tale of an unusual haunting. Although the plot involves conventions of a traditional ghost story (a stately Victorian house, a malicious specter), the difference is that a person is being haunted instead of a house. The ghost presents Lila with a choice: either undergo a catharsis to exorcise the demon, or remain a prisoner to it.
Playing the lead part in her own script, Porter knows Lila’s character inside and out, making her nervous patterns of behavior reflect how she is imprisoned by her past. Mr. Barrington himself is a deceptively friendly clown whose harmless gags grow increasingly menacing. He has a daisy on his lapel, a playful striped ascot, a Scottish accent, and a fedora. Brian McCardie effectively uses this characterization to make it all the more terrifying when Barrington’s actions become threatening.
Packard and director of photography Eric J. Goldstein shot the film beautifully, using liberal amounts of fog to create a dreamlike atmosphere. While the house holds Lila prisoner, aesthetically it’s still a cozy, old-fashioned sort of home that one can imagine growing up in, as if Norman Bates’ house on the hill in Psycho merged with the backdrops of Anne of Green Gables.
The most troubling and intriguing aspects of Mr. Barrington are the loose ends that are not tied up at the conclusion of the movie. Flashbacks of Lila’s bringing-up in a convent are never clarified, including scenes depicting a dead nun at the bottom of a staircase, a young Lila firing a gun, and Samuel being asked not to return to the premises by the head nun. Despite this perplexity, Mr. Barrington is an overall success in its ability to weave mystery with reality and romance with terror.