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Wild Country (2005)
6th Sep 05
Five teenagers are attacked by werewolves on a hiking expedition across the Scottish moors.
Scottish horror isn't something we're very familiar with, sadly. In fact, think Scottish Horror and you'll no doubt come up with an English production, set in Scotland - the one, the only, The Wicker Man starring Edward "Could you send a dinghy, PLEASE!" Woodward. You might also think Dog Soldiers, but again, a English horror film set in Scotland. However it is the central theme of Dog Soldiers that brings me to this new tale of Scottish horror - that of the werewolf.
Having moved on since seeing Lon "It's a full moon tonight!" Chaney Jr.'s worried Larry Talbot dissolving, frame-by-frame into the cuddly, furry faced 'monster' in the 40's Universal film, we now expect something more directly unsettling (or at least, something different) from this subgenre. And by God that's what we get here.
Wild Country follows a group of five teenagers on a cross-country hiking trip. Driven to their rather bleak starting point in the middle of nowhere by their adult guardian, Father Steven, they unenthusiastically embark on their countryside adventure whilst bickering at each other with their own brand of genuinely amusing banter. Kelly Ann, having recently given up her unwanted baby for adoption, responds to the sound of a crying infant coming from the wild darkness. She pulls the abandoned child from the bushes and proceeds to breastfeed.
Meanwhile, a creepy, peeping Tom of a shepherd gets himself mauled to pieces by a savage beast which prompts the kids to be somewhat more vigilant as they hike their way to the destination at a guest house, where Father Steven awaits them in the company of the establishment's accommodating landlady, Missy. True terror awaits the youths in the darkness of the cold night as they fall, one by one, at the claws of the Shadow Beast.
Well written, economically directed and excellently acted, Wild Country's strongest feature may be its sense of realism. The dialogue interplay between these young people is almost akin to the cinema of Loach or Leigh while their reactions to the terror surrounding them is flinchingly genuine. If any werewolf film can be called realistic, then this is that werewolf film.
Most of Wild Country is a little reminiscent of the moors scene at the beginning of An American Werewolf in London - the fear of being out in the open and at the mercy of not only everything in nature, but also open to attack from the forces of the supernatural, this time taking the form of big hairy Scottish beasts with massive teeth and an appetite for teenagers.
The story is furnished with a few twists and turns towards the end, the kind that make it stand out as a quirkily different wolf film, and the filmmakers haven't forsaken their sense of humour, more present in the first 30 minutes before the shit begins to hit the fangs. This humour mostly relies on the talents of these young (mostly first-time) actors with their cutting delivery and, as with most decent horror movies, this humour makes the complete experience feel less 2-dimensional. In other words, this might be a horror film you can actually take your girlfriend to see.
As far as the beast itself is concerned, the makers don't give us much of an opportunity to set eyes on it until the dawn scenes in the last part of the film. The brief close-ups indicate old school monster techniques while the last shot of the film appears totally CGI. But don't let that put you off - the ending is priceless.
At this screening (at London Frightfest), the print was quite dark, making it a struggle to see what was happening onscreen during the middle part of the film, set during the night. Is this shy I didn't see much of the beast? Director Craig Strachan assured the audience that this was merely a technical problem, which will be corrected before official release.
Wild Country is no masterpiece, but a tight enough little wolf chiller made with an honest, realist style. And you can tell it's proud to be Scottish without seeing one single kilt.