Dir: Michael J Bassett. UK 2006. 91mins
"Get them out of here. Get them to the island andteach them a bloody lesson!" the governor at a young offenders institutionroars at the inmates early on in Wilderness,Michael Bassett's lurid but enjoyably cheesy horror picture.
This is not subtlefilm-making. Dario Poloni's screenplay is influencedby a huge array of sources, with nods to everything from Alan Clark's Scum to Lord Of The Flies, The BlairWitch Project, Deliverance, Agatha Christie's AndThen There Were None, even Alien.The premise - depositing a group of urban kids in a remote wilderness - isn'tso far removed from that of various reality TV series. The performances, from ayoung cast are uneven (in their more exaggerated moments, they evoke memoriesof popular British kids' drama GrangeHill.) and the plotting is contrived in the extreme, but the film-makersattack their material with plenty of gusto.
Wildernessis one of a large number of low-budget British horror movies made in recentyears. Although it is strictly genre fare, it received UK Film Council backing(a sign of the growing respectability of horror in the British market) and isproduced by Ecosse Films, a company generallyassociated with more upscale fare like MrsBrown, Charlotte Gray and BBC dramaseries Monarch Of TheGlen.
Whether Wilderness will enjoy the same success as its near cousins, NeilMarshall's Dog Soldiers and The Descent, remains to be seen, butindulgent teen audiences should enjoy its shock tactics: with its diet of decapitation,severed limbs and dog-ravaged corpses, it certainly won't disappoint anyonelooking for gore. UK distributor Momentum has pencilled in a late summerrelease: the film premiered at the Brussels International Festival Of Fantastic Film.
As the film begins, Callum (Toby Kebbell) arrives atthe young offenders unit. His co-offenders are a thoroughly bad lot: violentsociopaths, armed robbers, murderers and serial sex offenders. During thegrimly naturalistic prison scenes in which we see bullying which leads to asuicide, there are hints that the film-makers may be trying to make a statementabout the British penal system.
However, once the youngdelinquents are dispatched to a deserted island on what seems like a glorifiedoutward bound trip, any attempt at realism is abandoned. "What the fuck are wedoing here'" the kids ask, utterly bewildered at being deposited in the middleof nowhere. "Building character, lads, building character," they're told.
It soon becomes apparentthat there is somebody lurking in the woods who wishesthe kids harm. For no very convincing reason, a group of young women also areon a camping trip on the island. They too are targeted by the residentbogeyman, who is expert at camouflage and booby traps, likes shooting his victimswith a crossbow, and tends to chop off their heads which he them impales onsticks.
The kids might stand achance of survival if they were able to work together, but that - it seems - isbeyond them. There is a certain grim comedy in witnessing their flailingattempts at saving themselves. When their food runs out, they're reduced toeating barbecued dog. They betray one another in the blink of an eye.
One of the film's problemsis that most of the characters are so obnoxious that it's a struggle to findany worth identifying with, or to feel too upset when each gets his bloodycome-uppance. Racist skinhead Steve (played with cheery malevolence by StephenWight) is so beyond the pale that he risks turning into the equivalent of apantomime villain.
The taciturn hero Callum isn't especially likeable either. He reverts toprimitive warrior type and ends up behaving just as viciously as the hunter whois pursuing him.
The final reel revelations,in particular the attempts at introducing a father-son sub-plot, fail toconvince. Nonetheless, Bassett (whose last film Deathwatch received mixed reviewsbut sold widely and did brisk business on DVD) keeps up a relentless narrativetempo and there is always a sense that his tongue is at least partly in hischeek.
He may display scantinterest in characterisation on the evidence here, but when it comes to grand guignol set-pieces involvingdismemberment and bloodthirsty dogs, he shows plenty of flair.