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dir David Bruckner
scr Joe Barton
prd Jonathan Cavendish, Richard Holmes
with Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton, Paul Reid, Maria Erwolter, Kerri McLean, Jacob James Beswick, Francesca Mula
release UK 13.Oct.17
17/UK eOne 1h34
Another grim discovery: Spall and friends
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
There may not be much to this lost-in-the-woods horror adventure, but director David Bruckner certainly does everything he can to create a freak-out atmosphere, including lots of scary noises on the soundtrack and some superbly understated effects. But while the characters have plenty of laddish energy, they basically have just one personality trait each. And with only one note of pushy subtext, the whole thing feels a bit pointless.
On a night out in Britain with his friends, Luke (Spall) witnesses a botched robbery during which Robert (Reid) is killed. So the surviving four take the hiking trip Robert proposed in northern Sweden. Hutch (James-Collier) is alpha-male who proposes cutting through a forest when the un-athletic Dom (Troughton) injures his knee. Nice guy Phil (Ali) agrees, but a sudden thunderstorm sends them running for cover in a creepy cabin, where they discover signs of a Wicker Man-style cult. And carcasses in the trees hint that there's a rather enormous monster out there somewhere.
With the thinnest of plots possible, Bruckner has little choice but to put lots of crunching scariness in the sound mix. He also keeps most of the violence off-screen, letting the audience imagine the horror rather than revelling in it. And what is shown is usually in deep shadows or pitch blackness. All of this effectively increases the terror for the characters, if not the audience. The main problem is that the genre is as old as these ancient hills.
Each of the four leads is engaging, making the most of the limited personality allotted. Spall anchors the film with a terrific sense of guilt that echoes a little too loudly in the nightmares and visions he suffers in this shadowy forest. The others suffer nightmares as well, but we never see them, only their terrified faces as they awaken. Like Spall, Ali, James-Collier and Troughton are all up to the physical and psychological challenges of the film. But some complexity might have made them more compelling.
As the story goes along, Bruckner never finds a way to properly frighten the audience. There's a lot of nastiness, as well as some genuinely disturbing visuals, but the horror tropes are far too well-worn to generate any jolts. And the emphasis on Luke's guilt would have been a lot more effective if it emerged in a more subtle, organic way. As is, it feels contrived, a plot device designed to evoke a feeling in the audience that never quite pays off.
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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