It’s not easy to write good horror today. By now, so many of the methods once considered novel ways of telling stories of terror are now seen as cliched tropes. I’ll acknowledge that some titles do still manage to breathe some life back into the genre, but if The Passing is what’s considered the future of horror, perhaps we should just stick to the cliches.
Stanley (Mark Lewis Jones) is a quiet man living alone in a cabin in the Welsh countryside. He has no family, friends, or even any visitors. One day, while walking through the woods near his house, he notices a car that has crashed into a nearby river with an injured girl named Sarah (Annes Elwy) inside. After freeing her, Stanley invites both Sarah and her brother Iwan (Dyfan Dwyfor) back to his home to recuperate. Unable to leave the remote locale they find themselves in due to car trouble, the Sarah and Iwan decide to stay and help out Stanley with the well he is constructing. Soon though, obsession, jealousy and secrets from the past begin to take over all three.
The main problem with The Passing is that its creators have branded it as the wrong genre. This isn’t horror. This is dark drama disguised as horror. There are more scenes of quiet, brooding anguish and tense arguments than any real chill. Meanwhile, an incredibly lame attempt to tag on a ghost story in the last few minutes and various bogus moments featuring the camera sneaking up behind a character only to have them turn around and discover there isn’t actually anyone there is about as high as The Passing is willing to go on the scare factor.
Even more damaging for the film is that not enough is known about any of the characters to care or even wonder what they’re hiding. We know they’re hiding something only because characters in this type of setup almost always are. But The Passing never gives its audience any real reason to care.
In many ways, The Passing is an actor’s dream. As the only three actors in the entire film, Jones, Elwy, and Dryfor are given virtually nothing in terms of characterization to work with, and have no choice but to construct their own characters from the ground up. The end result is three performances built on a deep understanding of the lost souls on display. Each actor knows their character so well, including and especially the dark journey which has led them to their current state, and plays them to perfection.
Aside from decent performances, what The Passing does have going for it is a unique atmosphere that manages to be both tranquil and ominous at the same time. Shot in the Welsh countryside, the entire landscape of the film is covered in nothing but forest and rain. It’s not just the fact that the screenplay never ventures outside the area for any city scenes which gives The Passing it’s desolate feel, but its also the way director Gareth Bryn has his characters interact with each other. Each one of these individuals carries with them some darkness from the past which they cannot shake and have no choice but to wear them on their sleeves for all to see. As a result, each one is more or less closed off from one another in their own tension-riddled reality cut off from the outside world.
However, a tense atmosphere alone is not enough to make a good movie. Suffering from a completely random third act revelation that hampers the plot rather than actually explain anything remotely relevant, The Passing fails to add anything to the genre it claims to belong to.