Independent British Horror films often showcase some of the best up and coming talent about. Neil Marshall was a prime example of this back in 2002 with his debut film Dog Soldiers. He has subsequently produced an interesting body of work in both cinema and television. Independent horror films offer a great deal of flexibility to writes and directors, affording them an opportunity to explore themes that larger studios simply will not touch. Happy endings, moral subtexts, glamorous leads are not de rigueur. In fact, they are potentially a hindrance. The genre is a platform for gritty and often unpleasant tales that explore the darker side of human nature. Michael J. Bassett's Wilderness falls squarely into this category, offering a grim but gripping story.
The somewhat lurid UK DVD packaging calls this film “Predator, meets Scum, meets Lord of the Flies” which rather succinctly breakdowns the story. There is also a major spoiler photo on the back sleeve which ruins the plot. However, considering the film features Sean Pertwee, an actor who always seems to meet a painful and unpleasant end in whatever he appears, may be this is not such a giveaway after all. The story follows a group of young offenders, with a list of unpleasant criminal traits, as they travel to a remote island for an outward-bound course and “team building” exercise. One by one they fall victim to a hidden homicidal manic. Is this merely a cruel chance of fate, or is there a more sinister motive behind these events.
On first look, Wilderness is hardly brimming with original ideas and director Michael J. Bassett treats us to numerous homages to famous genre films. However, what viewers do get as a bonus are some well-defined characters that you can actually identify with. So often these days we have to endure films exclusively populated by people we could not careless about. Not so here. The sociopath and the sex offender are particularly interesting roles with a surprising amount of depth. Performances are good all round and it’s that inherent British quality I mentioned earlier that gives this film a little more credibility and vitality. This is not a slick glossy production. Being so would be counterproductive. The stark quality to the production design means we focus on the narrative.
Be warned, this film has a “15” rating in the UK and it's a particularly strong one at that. The killer uses a crossbow, knife and hunting dogs to kill his prey. There is one death scene that stands out and may well make the casual viewer flinch. There is also some staged animal violence which may not be well received by dog lovers. The dialogue includes liberal doses of British colloquialism throughout the film but this is not out of step with the story or the characters. Wilderness is also well paced, balancing both plot exposition and shocks. Overall the one hundred minutes plus running time is used very well. It would also be remiss of me if I didn’t mention the excellent use of location photography in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
At a time when the US market seems incapable of making anything other than substandard remakes of classic films, foreign movies or just uninspired jump scare horror films; it is refreshing to find a British production that shows some creativity and difference. Yes, Wilderness is derivative in its basic premise but the formula provides an opportunity to present some valid characters and credible dialogue. It chooses to avoid arbitrary distinctions between good and bad, instead offering more nuanced ideas as to why people do terrible things. There is also a sincere approach to the entire film, showing the love of a genuine genre fan and not the cynical, contrived workmanship of a studio hack. Therefore, I would recommended Wilderness to anyone who enjoyed Dog Soldiers.