The Daily Telegraph

A pleasing off-kilter thriller – if you don’t take it seriously

- Anita Singh

Bitter experience teaches us that thrillers which promise good things in the opening episode often fall to pieces at the midpoint then descend into absolute bunk by the end. Last week I slogged to the end of ITV’S The Suspect, mainly because I couldn’t rest without knowing why that plumber kept popping up in the kitchen with suspicious­ly timed offers of coffee and/or beating up photograph­ers in the back garden. It turned out the plumber was actually… oh, never mind. It’s so stupid that even typing it out makes me feel annoyed.

The good thing about Channel 5 is that they let me have all four episodes of their dramas in advance, so I can watch the whole thing and manage your expectatio­ns. Thus I can tell you that The House Across the Street doesn’t build to a brilliant finale. It crams far too much into its final episode and goes a little bit too mad (put it this way: there is a scene in which a woman puts on a pair of her male neighbour’s underpants).

But it’s not too bad. Netflix parodied this sort of thing in The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window, and they can never be taken too seriously, but this one has a pleasingly off-kilter tone. No character behaves quite as you’d expect them to in a situation such as this, which involves a schoolgirl who disappears from a playground near her home.

Claudia (Shirley Henderson) is the school nurse and neighbour of the missing child. She has just recovered from breast cancer, her ex-husband has a new partner and a baby on the way, and she is losing the connection with her teenage son. Claudia becomes creepily over-involved in the case, and we’re left to work out if that’s because she has something to do with it, or whether she’s just lonely and desperate to feel needed. The other suspects include George (Line of Duty’s Craig Parkinson, an actor with the charisma to lift every show he’s in), who arrives at the school to teach adult literacy; Joanne (Sara Powell), a nosy neighbour who appears to relish the drama; and the mother and father of the missing girl, because aren’t we conditione­d not to trust the parents in these cases?

And something to bear in mind: you may need to switch on the subtitles. Not just because that’s true of most dramas on television these days, but because Henderson is an actress who delivers her lines in an unearthly whisper.

How many films would you like to watch about Katia and Maurice Krafft, a pair of volcanolog­ists from Alsace? Fire of Love, a documentar­y about the couple, was released earlier this year. Their story was featured in Into the Inferno, a 2016 offering from the German director Werner Herzog (available on Netflix). Now Herzog has returned to them in The Fire Within, which is subtitled Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft.

The Kraffts were killed in the 1991 eruption of Mount Unzen in Japan. “I have seen so many eruptions in my 23 years that, even if I die tomorrow, I don’t care,” Maurice had once said. Were they foolhardy? Obsessive? Or did they simply make one terrible miscalcula­tion on this occasion? Alas, the film gives no insights. This is not, Herzog explains at the beginning, intended to be “another extensive biography”. Instead, he says, “what

I am trying to do here is to celebrate the wonder of their imagery.”

The Kraffts documented their work in hundreds of hours of film; Herzog’s role here is to edit it down, overlaying the other-worldly images with haunting music and his own narration. And what images they are. Often, Herzog stops talking and simply fills the screen with flowing magma. It is mesmerisin­g. “It appears to me,” Herzog says later, “that the Kraffts were shooting a whole film about Creation in the making. They just didn’t have enough time left to edit it.”

There is also a quirkiness to the images featuring the Kraffts themselves, which surely caught Herzog’s eye. In their silver protective suits, with Katia’s tiny figure framed against a wall of shooting lava, they could be characters from a 1950s B-movie. The Kraffts as film-makers are as fascinatin­g to Herzog as the Kraffts as scientists; he notes that they would shoot several takes of their early videos, sometimes acting the scenes rather than behaving naturally.

Having not seen Fire of Love, I found Herzog’s film frustratin­g for its lack of informatio­n about the couple; I wanted to understand what drove them. But that was not his aim. Herzog has shown the Krafft’s stunning footage to the world; from the little we learn of the couple here, that is exactly what they would have wanted.

The House Across the Street ★★★ The Fire Within ★★★

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 ?? ?? Shirley Henderson stars in Channel 5’s suburban drama The House Across the Street
Shirley Henderson stars in Channel 5’s suburban drama The House Across the Street

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