A girl runs through the woods, pursued by two men desperately calling her name, but though they seek to protect her she will not listen. Threatening to throw herself off the cliff if they attempt to return her to the orphanage, the girl is shot by her uncle, tumbling to her death on the rocks below.
Tried for the murder of Susan Barrow, Edward Barrow is sentenced to life in prison while the witness, the girl’s doctor, Finn Galloway, reviews the recordings of their sessions together, becoming fascinated with Susan’s obsession with the tall, inhuman figure who she believed was coming to take her to “the dark place.”
Her own death preferable to returning to Baldurrock, Finn travels to that isolated mansion in the hills and connives to gain entry to talk with the current resident, the reclusive former ballerina Elisa Grey, but he is given short shrift by her teacher, the intimidating and protective Lorena Velasco who immediately sees through his fabrications.
Elisa traumatised following the tragedy of a performance of Swan Lake in which a fire broke out and killed the dancer playing the villain Baron Von Rothbart, the sorcerer who appears in the form of an owl and who transforms the Princess Odette into a white swan, Lorena tries to rehabilitate her through dance while Finn attempts the same with a more conventional approach, but all may be dancing to a different tune when night falls.
The third collaboration of director Lawrie Brewster and writer Sarah Daly’s Scottish based horror specialist studio Hex Media following Lord of Tears and The Unkindness of Ravens and partially funded through a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, The Black Gloves continues and expands the mythology of their sinister creation the Owlman.
A lurking presence whose shape is echoed in the silhouettes of the trees against the sky, Baldurrock lives in the shroud and the shadow of the past, its isolation and the wind blowing cold against the stone walls recalling the lonely setting of The Unkindness of Ravens; the mansion a menacing presence itself, Finn’s approach recalls Eleanor Vance’s arrival at Hill House under similarly dramatic clouds.
With noises in the night torturing Finn, Robert Wise’s classic adaptation of The Haunting and Peter Medak’s The Changeling are among the influences, and like the former The Black Gloves is beautifully and starkly lit in monochrome, a tumbling dream of looming shadows and illuminated mist, the visuals and even the typography of the credits echoing the 1930s, a feeling enhanced by the prominent music of Tchaikovsky, once used on the soundtracks of Universal’s Dracula and The Mummy.
The performances and dialogue slightly overwrought as befits the cinematic style of the period in which the film is set, it is a tale of obsession which moves towards melodrama, Finn with Elisa, Elisa with the past, Lorena with dance; each of the trio odd in their own ways, they blow hot and cold as the moods take them, often very hot, but the broken pieces do not quite fit together.
Constrained in the role of the too-stuffy doctor, The Unkindness of Raven‘s Jamie Scott Gordon presents himself immaculately and remains aloof while only a foot behind him in the undergrowth there is corruption, but he is never as raw as when he himself was the target of the Owlman’s attentions in that film, and while more beautifully made The Black Gloves doesn’t match its power.
As Lorena, Musarañas‘ Macarena Gómez is suitably tempestuous but caught between dream and sleep in a house full of madness and monsters Alexandra Nicole Hulme’s Elisa never becomes more than what the other project on her; largely told through Finn’s eyes, the viewer never come to understand why he is so damaged when it is those around him who have been cursed by the Owlman, but perhaps there are yet more pieces of the puzzle to be located.