Friday, 7 July 2017

The Dark Mile: EIFF Review

I checked out Gary Love's highlands-set waterbound horror!




The Dark Mile must be the most frustrating piece of work to come out of EIFF this year because of sheer wasted potential alone. The Scottish Highlands are the perfect setting for a horror movie; and a water-bound cult-themed piece of work sounds like it could’ve been awesome – but there’s just no real weight to the resulting mess.

Creepily underwhelming
Rebecca Calder and Deirdre Mullins star as Louise and Claire, a couple holidaying in Scotland to mend their broken relationship after a tragic event. After hiring a beautiful boat from Kevin (Paul Brannigan), they begin to sail through the rugged landscape – but a chance encounter with some of the local residents in a bar sends things spiralling out of control. Pursued by a menacing, hulking black trawler, the pair begin to realise that there are more sinister forces at work here.

Sounds great, right? Well here’s the problem with The Dark Mile: it’s paced in the worst possible way for any movie. It starts slow, and builds up gradually – revealing little by little that things are not what they seem. It then reaches the end of its second act in a thundering crescendo, with the potential for an incredible third act. But, startlingly, the credits roll. Where’s the movie? It’s missing an act. It’s only an hour and a half as well – I’d happily have settled for another half an hour of mayhem, and cut a lot of the exposition we’re already provided with.

Rebecca Calder as Louise
The other problem with The Dark Mile is that it’s relentlessly unlikable. The local residents are, of course, incredibly creepy; facts revealed about Claire make it impossible to root for her; and Louise comes off as an annoying, cold, and unresponsive shell of a person – enhanced by the characteristically Scottish pale skin. There’s no formative arc to these people: they remain infuriatingly opaque throughout the entire runtime. Hell, even the ‘twist character’ is clearly not who they seem from the get go. The cinematography is consistently bleak – with dreich weather casting shadows over dark hills, and freezing-cold highland water. I understand that all of this makes the entirety of the film sinister and ether-y; but at the same time, we should at least care about the main characters, no?

As a viewer, I don’t expect all my questions to be answered by the end of a feature – and neither should you: passive viewing isn’t always a suitable tactic. But The Dark Mile sets up a jigsaw puzzle of occult clues over its 87-minute runtime that I’d expect to come together at least partially. Perhaps a knowledge of ancient Scottish mythology would fill the gaps a little – but there’s a lot which I didn’t get, and I feel like I should’ve got to better enjoy the movie. This wouldn’t have been as necessary if the creepiness wasn’t so generic: dolls with missing eyes, creepy girls walking around in night-dresses, and darkened corridors without possibility of escape. These are all elements that we’ve seen countless times before – so all the weird shit about seeing and hallucinating about deer makes even less sense.

Conventionally creepy
The film is not without it’s charms – as I’ve said, the slow build-up has the potential to work really well with an explosive third act. It also passes by in a blur: when the credits rolled I was genuinely surprised that an hour and a half had passed. It’s also, in its last 20 minutes, occasionally brilliant: creepy, tense, and unpredictable. Throughout, there’s a palpable atmosphere of unease that’s unshakable – even though you know exactly why it’s there. It’s just disappointing that the film couldn’t have delivered in the end and created at least a 4-star movie.


The Dark Mile contains the weakest 2/3 of an explosively entertaining, violent, and terrifying horror movie; filled with mystery and idiosyncrasy. Unfortunately, Gary Love’s decision to stop after the second act means that The Dark Mile isn’t entertaining, violent, or terrifying; instead it’s a confusing, unlikable, and depressing mess of a movie filled with unrealistic characters who may as well be ghosts themselves. 

The Dark Mile gets 2 stars!

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