Grief is a 2014 psychological horror film directed by James Watkins and starring Asa Butterfield, Ramona Marquez, Sarah Bolger, Stellar Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Robert Carlyle and Julia Winter. It is a film set in the Second World War about Katie Blake, an English girl sent as an evacuee to Wales after her parents die in an air raid, and she is adopted by a family which is haunted by a terrifying spirit.
The film premiered in August 2016 and, despite only being a considerable box office success, received acclaim from critics, who praised the performances of Butterfield and Marquez, as well as the musical score and the unpredictability of the plot.
In 1940, during a violent and frightening air raid, Katie Blake is cycling home from a grocery when a bomb knocks her off of her bicycle. Her mother, realizing her absence, runs out to find her and carries her back to the house. Her father finds them and they run to the public air-raid, only for a bomb to explode behind them, in which Katie is knocked unconscious. When she wakes up, she discovers that her parents had been killed when the bomb hit, and she screams in despair. That morning, while meeting with a governor Mr. Franklin, Katie learns that she has a distant relative in a village in South Wales and that she can be sent there with the evacuees that very day. Katie complies.
Katie takes the train to a country village called Llygaid y Blaidd, and she is the only one to get off the train there. Soon, a boy who names himself as Gwion Bradley arrives in a black Pontiac Chieftain and says he is to drive her to the house where they are staying. Katie is initially intimidated by Gwion's complete lack of communication with her and the fact that he doesn't even look at her, even when she asks what his parents do. He drives her into the village, and when the villagers see them many of them stare mournfully at Gwion, which doesn't go unnoticed by Katie. They come to a stop at Gwion's parents' house and Gwion introduces her to his parents, Mrs. Shannon Bradley and Mr. Jason Bradley, respectively the town butcher and constable. She makes herself at home, but she continuously glimpses a girl's figure at the corner of her eye throughout the day.
At school, she shares a class with Gwion, a factor he is not visibly pleased about. In class, she notices that when they try to warm the room up with a lit fireplace, Gwion visibly shivers and never looks at the fire once. During the day, the spoiled Katheryn Brooks victimises Katie for being an English girl, and taunts her for losing her parents, nearly provoking a fight which Dr. Bryn Simmonds, the town doctor and vicar, breaks up. Gwion eats his lunch alone under a tree and, when Katie opts to join him, Gwion remains silent. When she asks him to tell her something about himself, he coldly answers that he finds her irritating. While she eats apart from him, she sees the face of a black-haired girl in the window of a church. Walking back to the house, she passes the blackened ruins of a chapel, which Mr. Bradley draws her from, stating it's the one place in the village that nobody can ever go.
During the night, Katie hears weeping from Gwion's room and, when she goes to investigate, she is distracted when she sees the figure of a teenage girl in the mirror. Recognising her as the girl from the church window, she approaches the girl only for the floor to collapse and she falls into the cupboard under the stairs. She is retrieved by Gwion, who nurses her bruised legs and head and, when she awakens, he insists that she was sleepwalking and she, confused, complies. Gwion personally repairs the hole in the stairs. She goes for a walk by the lake, where she is approached by Katheryn, who threatens her if she gets too close to Gwion - she also comments that she isn't the worst thing that could happen to Katie if she does get too close.
Katie walks to the church, where she sees Gwion leaving the church with Dr. Simmons, and when she asks he refuses to tell her what Gwion is doing there. During the midday sermons, Katie notices that there is a silhouetted girl sitting in the corner of the church and she is looking coldly at Gwion. When the sermon finishes and she goes to approach the girl, she isn't there. When she runs into Katie, Gwion suddenly apologises for his cold attitude towards her and offers to show her something. Intrigued, she follows him and he shows her a spot in the woods where there is a rope swing. The two of them play there for a while and, all the while, a silhouetted figure watches them. When Gwion sees the silhouette, he becomes silent. She notices this, and when she follows his line of sight there is nobody there. On the way back, they come across a sleeping bear and Gwion guides her back the long way to the car. When Katie asks why he is even allowed to drive, Gwion kindly refuses to answer.
In the night, Katie experiences a vicious nightmare about walking through the forest and finding a duplicate of herself, set afire, hanging by her neck from the rope swing. When she wakes up, she sees a decapitated sow lying on the floor in front of her, and its blood streaked across the wall in writing, reading 'He is not yours!'. In the morning, the sow and its blood is gone and there is no writing or evidence of writing, and Katie speculates that it was a figment of her imagination, only to look in her mirror and see that the same words are etched in red across her body. When she rushes out of the room to tell Mr. Bradley, the writing is gone from her. Heavy from apparent sleeplessness, Katie walks into Gwion's room and discovers a photograph of him with a girl who looks like his precise duplicate, and recognises her as the girl from the church window. She acknowledges that there are no lights or candles in Gwion's room, and barely any in the house generally.
She visits Dr. Simmons and asks her why he keeps seeing Gwion privately - Dr. Simmons explains to her that, since a violent accident, Mr. Bradley has insisted that he be given therapy from him after going through a long period of mood swings between violence and silence, as well as a visible terror towards fire. She also is told that Mrs. Bradley has been searching for someone like Katie to come to the house as a permanent resident since 'the incident'. When she asks about the accident and what happened, he states that he cannot say without violating Gwion's trust in him, since Gwion has been slowly making progress. When she comments that she's been hearing Gwion crying, he speculates that the progress hasn't been as forthcoming as he once thought.
Katie is contacted by Mr. Franklin, who asks to meet to see how she is getting on - Gwion drives her to the station. Katheryn watches them furiously, and she and Gwion lock eyes as they depart. When she meets Mr. Franklin, she says that she is liking her new home and that the only drawback is Gwion himself - Mr. Franklin comments that she's heard whispers about the boy, but explanations of the event concerning his behaviour never leaves the village. She asks if he ever had any girlfriends that Mr. Franklin knows of, and Franklin answers that he was once popular according to his mother but, over the past three years, he has cut off all friendship due to his antisocial behaviour. She farewells Mr. Franklin before he leaves.
On the way back, Katie carefully asks who the girl in the photograph was. Gwion reacts violently and stops the car sharply, before tensely ordering that she get out. She apologises, but he ignores her and even threatens to shove her out. Frightened, Katie leaps out of the car and Gwion speeds off without her. She watches him go and walks home. Passing the forest, Katie spots the figure of the girl from the photograph and demands to know who the girl is, but in answer, the girl turns and walks away. Meanwhile, Gwion pulls over in a clearing and suddenly starts sobbing violently.
When Katie returns to the village, she is confronted by Katheryn, who taunts her that she's been dumped by Gwion. Having enough of the spoiled girl's relentless bullying, Gwyneth snaps at Katheryn that she has a better chance with Gwion if she wanted him than Katheryn ever will. Katheryn is visibly hurt by this, and tries to defend this by stating that this was the reason Katie's parents were taken from her, but Katie ignores that this time and demands to know what happened in the burned chapel and why has it affected Gwion. At first, Katheryn is dead silent, and when Katie hot-headedly grabs her and demands an answer, Gwion appears and separates them. When Katheryn wards Gwion off with a lit match, he backs off, and when she moves to attack Katie, Gwion stops her and, after a frenzied struggle, pushes her off a bridge into a river. Katheryn is knocked unconscious by the fall and found by her mother, who calls for Gwion to be arrested, but Katie states that Katheryn started the fight, immunising Gwion from blame.
The next day, Katheryn has disappeared from the village and, after a lengthy search, Gwion finds her, having been hanged by the neck from the rope swing. When Katie finds her, remembering the dream that depicted something so similar, she faints. Gwion carries her back to the Pontiac Chieftain, and when she wakes up in the house she asks who the girl in the picture is. He explains that she was his twin sister Gwyneth, and one day, after a vicious argument between him, Gwyneth and Katheryn (Who had tried to break up the two of them so that she could become his girlfriend unopposed by someone he was irreparably close to), Gwyneth retreated to a chapel, which caught fire after she knocked over a candle. Seeing the flames, Gwion had tried to rescue her from the burning building, only for it to collapse and crush Gwyneth - Gwion underwent lengthy therapy over the next three years, and had developed a fear of fire. Ever since the incident, Gwyneth's ghost has haunted the village, especially him and anyone he became close to - he detached from his friends to protect them from his sister's ghost.
With all of this information, Katie realises that Gwyneth's ghost targets her and tries to keep her apart from Gwion because she fears Katie will become closer to Gwion than Gwyneth was. She goes to the church and meets with Dr. Simmons, and she asks if she and Gwion could leave the town for a while, but he explains that the next train has been delayed two days because of a tree falling on the line. At the same time, Gwion receives a phone call from the station manager, telling him that Katie has been attacked by a girl with black hair and been taken to the station. He drives to the station, but finds it deserted and no evidence of Katie being there. Back in the village, Gwyneth appears and sets fire to the church, and Dr. Simmons is killed when he falls into the flames through a rotted floorboard. Katie is trapped in the church and she screams for help.
Gwion, seeing the flames, discovers he'd been lured from a trap laid for Katie, and drives desperately back to the village, just as a violent thunderstorm brings down several trees and forces him to take several awkward detours. Back in the church, while people are trying to water the flames, Katie is cornered by Gwyneth, and she pleads for her life only for Gwyneth to bring down supporting pillars, trapping her in the corner. The villagers' efforts to try and quell the flames are absolutely fruitless, and Mr. and Mrs. Bradley try to make it to Katie from the back, but the wall of the ground floor collapses and endangers Katie further, making any attempt to rescue her from there impossible.
Gwion finally arrives at the village and drives straight for the church, the opposite side to where he can hear Katie's screams. He drives head-first into the church door, destroying the car. Finally facing his fear of fire, Gwion runs to the upper level of the church and confronts Gwyneth, who moves to attack him. Gwion shouts for her to back off and, surprisingly, she freezes. Gwion states that he has endlessly regretted Gwyneth's death, but also says that, while Gwyneth can never be replaced in his heart, that leaves no excuse for Gwyneth to haunt him - the guilt lies with him, and if she wants to hurt anyone she can hurt him all she wants. Gwyneth, left stunned in silence by Gwion's speech, vanishes and Gwion runs to rescue Katie, carrying her on his back and taking them out of the window of the church and into the river. The church collapses and Gwion and Katie are retrieved from the river as the thunderstorm finally ends.
The next day, Gwion is delicately nursing burn scars he received during the rescue, and afterwards helps to pull the remains of the Pontiac Chieftain out of the wreckage. He walks peacefully back to the house where he sits by Katie until she wakes up. He explains that he rescued her from the church and that Gwyneth's wrath is over - as is his grief for her death. She embraces him, thanking him for saving her life and then quietly admits that she loves him. He confesses that he loves her and the two of them kiss. Together, they walk into the woods and start building new rope swings where the old one was. Gwion spots Gwyneth standing nearby in the forest while they build the swings and Gwyneth, smiling happily, waves to him. Smiling, he waves back and Gwyneth disappears, but Gwion knows that the village will no longer be troubled by Gwyneth Bradley ever again.
- Ramona Marquez as Katie Blake, an English girl who is sent to live in a village in South Wales, where she is adopted by Gwion's family and victimised by the vengeful spirit that haunts them.
- Asa Butterfield as Gwion Bradley, the only surviving child of the Bradley family, who is traumatically haunted by the death of his sister, and the fact that she has come back to torment the village.
- Sarah Bolger as Gwyneth Bradley, the main antagonist, Gwion's twin sister who was killed in a devastating accident and returns to haunt Gwion, and later Katie for opting to replace her.
- Stellar Skarsgard as Mr. Jason Bradley, Gwion's pragmatic father and the town constable, who opts to have Gwion provided psychiatric help after the accident.
- Julie Walters as Mrs. Shannon Bradley, Gwion's protective and stubborn mother and the owner of a butchery, who opts to keep Gwion close and believes that Katie would be good company for him.
- Robert Carlyle as Dr. Bryn Simmons, the town vicar and doctor who has secretly been helping Gwion through his grief and who is the first to deduce that he is haunted by guilt over Gwyneth's death.
- Julia Winter as Katheryn Brooks, a spoiled and vindictive girl who is partially responsible for the accident and had a secret crush on Gwion.
- Ellie Haddington as Mrs. Brooks, Katheryn's overbearing and cold mother
- Terrence Stamp as Mr. Franklin, a governor who sends her to South Wales in the first place.
- Tuppence Middleton as Katie's mother
- Andrew Bruchan as Katie's father
Critical Reception Edit
Grief was released in cinemas in August 2014 and gradually received widespread acclaim from critics and audiences. Receiving an 89% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film was widely praised for its performances, musical score, plot, mysterious story progression as well as the use of practical effects. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating read 'Grief, despite its title, delivers a marvellously entertaining, enthralling and captivating story filled with fleshed-out characters, terrifying sequences with fantastic direction and an ending that was undeniably happy'. The directing of the film was also hugely praised, especially the usage of long camera takes as opposed to alternations between close-ups.
The performances of Asa Butterfield and Ramona Marquez were the source of acclaim from critics, with people also universally praising the chemistry between them for being realistic and well-paced. Butterfield's acting was called, by the director, 'emotional, unpredictable and with perfect portrayal of despair, confusion and unrest, but at the same time not coming off as straight-up unlikeable'. Butterfield himself stated that he found the role to be intriguing to play because of the complexity of the character. Marquez's performance was acclaimed despite some believing it to be derivative of the horror-movie female protagonist. Susan Hill, who claimed that she hugely enjoyed the film, praised her acting for being 'Realistic enough that it felt like you were inside her head throughout the whole movie'.
Criticism, though not ample, was directed at its usage of horror movie cliches in minute ways, especially the climax, which was likened to The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death due to one character becoming endangered by the antagonist, and the other driving towards the scene of the climax and having to face a traumatic fear along the way. However, one critic commented that 'This is far from derivative, because Grief creates a completely different world to The Woman in Black 2 and it's essentially a much better movie because it has a better story and better characters' and the idea that it had such a happy ending, which drastically contrasted what the title suggested, some critics believed it was more of a 'psychological romance movie, featuring an envious and terrifying ghost' as opposed to just a straightforward supernatural horror movie.