Dir: David Mackenzie. UK. 2002. 90mins
An idiosyncratic combination of stalled road movie and psychological drama, The Last Great Wilderness marks a promising feature debut from director David Mackenzie. The dry, dark wit and unpredictable nature of the narrative reveal it to have more in common with the sensibility of early Dogme features like Festen and Mifune (the film is part funded by Zentropa) than anything currently emerging from British cinema. The original, offbeat qualities of the piece are its greatest strengths but also render it a particularly difficult film to market as it lacks obvious commercial appeal. It may well come to be seen as an interesting calling card from a talent likely to receive far more attention for his subsequent feature Young Adam, which co-stars Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton. The film, which features in the Discovery sidebar at Toronto next month, is released in the UK by the Feature Film Co early next year.
A veteran of numerous short films, including Dirty Diamonds (1992) and Marcie's Dowry (1999), Mackenzie makes the leap to features with a project co-written by his actor-brother Alastair, who also co-stars as Charlie. Angry and agitated, Charlie is heading through the Scottish countryside to Skye where his intention is to burn down the house of the pop star who has stolen the love of his ex-wife. Stopping at a roadside cafe, he meets Vincente (Phillips), a gigolo on the run from thugs intent on their own act of revenge. Unlikely compatriots, the two men join forces before running out of petrol in the middle of nowhere and seeking refuge at an isolated country manor.
Their welcome is distinctly on the chilly side. There is a hint of the paganism from The Wicker Man, a sense of menace in the air and the set-up is vaguely reminiscent of Psycho. The manor proves to be no haunted house but a retreat for a community of lost souls battling with their individual forms of addiction and emotional crises. The Last Great Wilderness then becomes a road movie that goes nowhere as the two men stay put, adjusting to the rhythms and rituals of the commune, discovering the dark secrets of its most damaged residents and dealing with their own issues. Charlie emerges with a healthier mental attitude after his ordeal. Vincente is less fortunate.
Beautifully shot by Simon Dennis, the film captures all the untamed majesty of the wintry Scottish Highlands and the bleak desolation of the landscape seems to seep into the very marrow of the enigmatic, meandering storyline. There is a feeling that everything has been made up as they went along, which results in a film that is constantly intriguing but also quite baffling and unfathomable in places.
The blunt humour of the dialogue is appealing, the performances are all highly creditable but it doesn't quite hang together, and the scenes of communal cross-dressing and appearances from the music group The Pastels add weight to any accusations of self-indulgence.
Prod co/int'l sales: Sigma Films ( 141 221 1421)
UK dist: Feature Film Co
Prod: Gillian Berrie
Exec prods: Peter Aalbeck Jensen, Laurence Gornall, Steve McIntyre, Christopher Pigott
Scr: Mackenzie bros, Berrie, Michael Tait
Cinematography: Simon Dennis
Prod des: Tom Sayer
Ed: Jake Roberts
Music: The Pastels
Main cast: Alastair Mackenzie, Jonny Phillips, Victoria Smurfit, David Hayman, Ewen Stewart, Ford Kiernan