A Yorkshire moor hides terrifying secrets in this atmospheric British horror debut

The Moor

Source: Bulldog Film Distribution

‘The Moor’

Dir: Chris Cronin. UK. 2024. 118mins

In British director Chris Cronin’s feature debut, the titular moor is not just of geographical significance. Its muddy bogs and treacherous peat marshes have absorbed — and are threatening to regurgitate — traumas both new and ancient. The story of a bereaved father searching for the remains of his young son, believed murdered along with numerous other children some 25 years before, The Moor effectively traverses the arduous terrain of guilt and grief. Despite losing its way somewhat in its final third, it is a potent British rural horror.

Atmospheric, thoroughly British horror

Arriving in UK cinemas on June 14 through Bulldog Film Distribution before a July 1 digital release, The Moors – with its inescapable similarity to the aftermath of Britain’s notorious moors murders of the 1960s – first premiered at last year’s Frightfest and has travelled the genre festival circuit since.

The film opens with a jolt, as the first jangling chord of Nir Perlman’s creeping, if sometimes over-eager, score provides an aural jump scare as we stare into a foreboding alley in a small Yorkshire town. In an agile extended single-take, the camera pans into the bright sunlight to follow 11-year-old Claire (Billie Suggett) and her younger pal Davey (Dexter Sol Ansell) as they hatch a plan to steal some sweets from the local newsagent. It’s 1996, and the kids don’t have a care in the world other than getting their hands on some sherbert Dib-Dabs — until, that is, Davey disappears, taken by unseen hands as Claire counts their spoils outside. There follows a short montage of newspaper headlines and news reports which speak of missing children, a ‘summer of fear’ and, eventually, an apprehended killer — the shadow of the Brady-Hindley murders looms large, but never overwhelms.

Now 25 years later, the convicted man (never named or really seen) is to be released, having served just one life sentence thanks to a bungling of the investigation led by now-regretful former Detective Thornley (Bernard Hill). Davey’s father Bill (David Edward-Robertson), driven by twisted, unrelenting pain, is desperately scouring the (fictional) Holme Moore, determined to find a piece of evidence that will keep the man in prison.

Claire (now played by Sophia La Porta) has developed something of a bond with Bill over the past decade and is, despite her understandable fear of the looming moor, driven to help him. Whether that’s due to guilt or loyalty is largely kept as an ambiguity by Paul Thomas’s screenplay, which digs into local myths to question whether the moor is an isolated hiding spot for the evils of humanity, or something even more sinister. Yorkshire-born Cronin is in no rush to get to any great reveal; despite several jump scares, this is a slow-burn, with a running time well beyond that of most genre features.

Cinematographer and Chris’s brother Sam Cronin does a good job of making their rural Yorkshire moor a haunting, oppressive place, the wide shots and muted colour palette emphasising its bleakness and anonymity. The filmmakers successfully convey just what it would mean to be lost and alone in this place; a chilling idea which really digs under the skin.

Still, undeterred, Claire and Bill traverse the moor, besieged by rain and endless mist which make it even more inhospitable; They are joined at first by experienced wilderness warden Liz (Vicki Hackett)  — a nice piece of logical plotting which, at least for a while, subverts the traditional ‘caution-to-the-wind’ behaviour of most horror characters — and, later, by spiritual dowser Alex (Mark Peachy) and his psychically gifted daughter Eleanor (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips).

As Eleanor begins to plug in to what is actually happening out on the moor, Cronin starts to reveal his hand – and begins to lose his grip on the reins. From here, the film barrels towards a messy conclusion that plays as a confusing mash-up of its themes rather than the hoped for climax. Nevertheless, this atmospheric, thoroughly British horror is strong enough to leave a mark — and may make you think twice about that summer camping trip.

Production company: Nuclear Tangerine

International sales: Raven Banner Entertainment sales@ravenbanner.ca

Producers: Chris Cronin, Paweł Pracz, Paul Thomas

Screenplay: Paul Thomas

Cinematography: Sam Cronin

Editing: Paweł Pracz

Music: Nir Perlman

Main cast: Sophia La Porta, David Edward-Robinson, Bernard Hill, Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips, Mark Peachy, Vicki Hackett, Dexter Sol Ansell, Billie Suggett