Review: Wilderness [2006]

Dir. Michael Bassett

Cast: Sean Pertwee, Alex Reid, Stephen Wight, Luke Neal, Toby Kebbell

Wilderness is director Michael Bassett’s follow-up to his creepy little World War I horror opus Death Watch and follows a multifarious band of juvenile delinquents and their custodians as they fight for their lives on a remote island against a lone, revenge-driven ex-special forces soldier. Wilderness starts languidly then spins out of control into an orgiastic display of rancorous dogs, crossbows and deadly traps, think The Children's Film Foundation meets Severance and you are some way to assimilating the cinematic niche where this black-hearted little film dwells.

The film opens in a very unequivocal British borstal (reform school) where we are privy to the debarkation of the new boy, and the pre-requisite tormenting of the weaker inmates by the neo-nazi motivated, incumbent sadist Steve (Wight) and his cerebrally challenged enforcer Lewis (Neal). Consequent to the obligatory suicide, the whole dorm-sharing assemblage are sent by the warden to be taught a lesson in survival on a remote island, once billeted by the military and now an 'out-of-bounds' adventure playground for the feloniously maladjusted.

They are attended  by irascible, vindictive warder Jed (Pertwee), who before long procures a brace of crossbow bolts to the body and is dispensed with by a phalanx of voracious man eating dogs. This leaves the boyish protagonists and a couple of female counterparts whose own chaperone, British Army trained Louise (Reid) has already taken a plunge off a precipice (with a nice set of the aforementioned dog’s gnashers fastened to her neck) and is believed to be dead. With a ruthless hunter, adroit in ambush and military Special Forces instruction on their tail for specific reasons that the film eventually divulges, the party must either put aside their asymmetries and fight or succumb to deviantly repulsive and creative deaths.

One of the asymptotic methodologies of contemporary 'date-night', Hollywood originated, 'teens-in-peril' horror fare that positively irks me is the survivor spotting contrivance, where we are presented with a medley of cliched characters that doubtlessly will be butchered prior to the film's finale (see Scream for rules on who will die and who will live). In the case of Wilderness, there really is no sense of who is going to die first, or who will endure, and thankfully for the viewer the majority of the characters in this film are so dislikeable that we can relish in the fact that they may all get slaughtered in ever more ingenious ways. This is in no way a bad thing, as it ascribes an original little twist that signifies, for once, all the characters are viable victims to both the film’s killer and the audience!

As with his debut, the engagingly dark Death Watch, Bassett continues to demonstrate a promise within a genre that has been disconsolately deficient within British cinema over the past few decades. There is much to appreciate about Wilderness, including the stark barbarity on display and the set-piece murders which are entertainingly imaginative, with a plethora of functional implements being used, encompassing bear traps and crossbow bolts. The killer himself is composed, dauntless and realistically threatening, even more so when we and the prevailing victims glean his true impetus.

What decisively fosters Wilderness to rise above the mundane direct-to-DVD horror indies is its visceral ferocity and gritty Brit-film veracity, Bassett has constructed a vicious little film that provokes the viewer to sympathise more with the killer than with the victims, which makes for a stimulating twist. Even with it's patchy acting, some hit and miss CGI bloodletting and a conspicuous nod to Lord of the Flies, this movie hits all the right notes if you cherish cohesive, high bodycount slashers. I look forward to witnessing what Michael Bassett comes up with to tickle our genre 'scary bone' next... his burgeoning competence is categorically one to watch.

Verdict: For prople who love crossbows, slasher movies and hungry man-eating dogs!

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