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Wilderness Movie Review

Written by Rosie Fletcher

Film released by Momentum Pictures (UK)


Directed by Michael J Bassett
Written by Dario Poloni
2006, Rated 18, 110 minutes

Sean Pertwee as Jed
Alex Reid as Louise
Toby Kebbell as Callum
Stephen Wight as Steve
Adam Deacon as Blue
Richie Campell as Jethro

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Before I saw Wilderness I’d read one short review of it and nothing more. One of the things I liked, is that coming to it virtually cold, by half way through the film I still had absolutely no idea who or what the “baddie” was going to be. That’s not something I get to experience very often and it kept me on the edge of my seat. For the sake of this review, and so as not to deny you the fun I had, I’ve chosen my images carefully, mainly from the first half of the film and I’ll be discussing the later stages of the plot as little as possible.

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Michael J Bassett’s film concerns a group of “special unit youth prisoners” who are taken to a seemingly deserted island to do a bit of bonding and to learn a few life lessons. It’s an all-male group of nasty, difficult young men, and it’s not without the character standards: the bully, the henchman, the coward and the dangerous outsider. These characters are familiar from prison dramas, borstal nightmares and school flicks over the years, from Cool Hand Luke to Harry Potter.

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Despite this, Bassett manages to get some good performances from the group of mostly-unknowns and the dialogue manages to stay largely contemporary and fresh, avoiding going too far down the well-beaten track of bad boy clichés. Toby Kebbell as our hero, Callum, gives a strong and convincing performance and is easy to cheer for, and Stephen Wright is extremely convincing as the cruel little sadist, Steve, adding a lot to the overall tension of the film.

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There are some imaginative and disgusting kills in Wilderness and a lot of grim gore and, for me, because of a certain (not uncommon) fear I have, I found a number of scenes in this film really nightmarish to watch. There are a couple of genius uses of the setting and surroundings, too — things appearing from the undergrowth that had been there the entire scene. There’s a frequent sense things aren’t quite what you expected them to be which keeps you on your toes and makes for an enjoyable watch. The film looks good — it’s full of beautiful shots of scenery from fields, to woods, to cliffs and the ocean, which work well against the early shots of the boys’ confinement. The over use of fade-to-black shots were an annoying distraction, though, and made it feel a bit like a TV movie, with deliberate pauses for adverts.

Listing some of the boys’ offences without saying who did what (we know we have a murderer, armed robbers and a serial sex offender within the group, for example) was a nice touch, and adds to this sense of not having all the info — not being able to see the full picture.

Unfortunately, when the baddie finally does reveal itself it just isn’t very scary — it’s a bit disappointing and it feels a bit out of place with the rest of the film. It also raises a fair few questions that aren’t ever answered, which always feels unsatisfying.

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Watching Wilderness I was reminded of a number of other films. Battle Royale, was one — the last scene in Wilderness was surely a nod in that direction. The relationships and the cruelty shown between the boys reminded me first of the brilliant, but disturbing, borstal drama Scum and then of the ubiquitous boys-on-an-island story The Lord of the Flies. But most of all, Wilderness is always going to be compared to Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers — because it’s set in a remote British woodland, because Sean Pertwee is in it (and the casting of Alex Reid from Marshall’s The Descent re-enforces the connection), because the title page of the website shows a close up of a massive set of animal fangs and, of course, because it’s British. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as Dog Soldiers. It’s not as funny, it’s not as scary and the characters and dialogue aren’t as memorable. However, Wilderness does a good line in gore and includes some imaginative kills. The boys carry the film and keep you guessing, and also caring, until the last. It’s more interesting and thoughtful than a lot of horror movies you’ll see. It’s a solid rental for an evening in, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite have the finesse to make it something you’ll want to watch over and over again.

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Film: ***/*****

This was a screener so picture, sound and extras will not be reviewed.

Want to comment on this review? Head over to the Horror DNA Review Forum.


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