Even five years ago, the British horror film seemed dead and buried. Who'd have thought that the last few years would have seen something of a renaissance for Brit chillers? Whilst it's not as good as THE DESCENT (2005) or SEVERANCE (2006), WILDERNESS is still leagues ahead of CREEP (2004) and the director's early effort, DEATHWATCH (2002).
Harking back to the backwoods slashers so beloved of the early 80s, WILDERNESS finds a group of ne'r-do-wells from a young offenders institution being shipped off to a remote island for a spot of character building after one of their dorm mates took his own life after being bullied mercilessly. Shocked that none of the boys did anything to help him, one of the heads of the institution suggests, "Get them out of here. Get them to the island and teach them a bloody lesson!" - unaware of how literally his advice will be taken. And, if you've seen as many early 80s slashers as I have (and I know most of you have) you'll have already joined the dots. Chaperoned by a brash, but not unkind, screw, Jed (DOG SOILDERS' Sean Pertwee), the urban lads initially find it difficult to adjust to the country life. But the island, which used to be an army base, is not as deserted as they first think. Firstly, they stumble across another camp - where a woman called Louise (THE DESCENT's Alex Reid) is chaperoning her own two charges: a couple of girls from a female young offender's unit. One of the wags remarks, "For an uninhabited island it's getting fucking crowded!". Jed and Louise agree it's probably best not for the boys and girls to mix, so they try to keep them apart. That is until a tramp, who was living in an abandoned abbey, is found with his throat ripped out. At first they suspect one of the boys, Calum (Toby Kebbell), who is nicknamed 'killer'. However, Louise comes to realise it was actually some kind of animal that did the damage. Her suspicions are confirmed when the group is attacked not only by a pack of ferocious dogs, but by an unseen assailant with a crossbow who attempts to pick them off one-by-one ...
WILDERNESS harks back to those early 80s slasher in more ways than one. So much so, that it's pretty inconceivable that director Michael J. Bassett is not fully versed in the subgenre. Recalling THE FINAL TERROR (1983), the killer is a master in camouflage, and some of the film's best moments comes as he emerges from a bush, or from under a pile of leaves, to pounce on his prey. There's also a head-on-a-stick scene that's a dead ringer from the one in one of the 70s best proto-slashers, RITUALS (1977).
A more literary comparison is William Golding's LORD OF THE FLIES. Except here, the boys (and girls) have already lost their innocence before being stranded on the island. The performances from the young cast, whilst variable, are for the most point pretty good. Stephen Wight's turn as Steve, a petty bully who finds their predicament the perfect opportunity to take his inner violence to the next level is especially impressive. However, if WILDERNESS has a problem it's that they are all the characters are pretty unlikable (either irredeemable bully boys or sniveling wrecks). I'm sure the toughness and surliness rings true as far as the inmates at a young offenders institution go, but it makes it a little difficult for an audience to empathize and root for their survival. Non British audiences may also be confounded by the youth slang that peppers the film - innit. You almost half wish that the killer - with his psychotic ASBO enforcement - gets his way!
Despite the lack of empathy we might have with the characters, Bassett still manages to wring a good deal of suspense from the proceedings - including a series of stand out scenes on the beach where the survivors are faced with the prospect of swimming out to sea, or facing the killer's crossbow and his ravenous dogs. WILDERNESS is also blessed with some juicy - although occasionally pretty hokey - gore fx. Like the same year's SEVERANCE, one of the best moments includes one character falling foul of an animal trap and loosing his foot to it; only to fall head first into another, which viciously clasps around his head. Ouch.
Despite failing to set the box office alight, judging from this - and the last few year's output - the British horror movie (and more specifically the slasher flick) is still very much alive and kicking against the pricks.
female:2 / male:7
1) Male found with wrists slit
2) Male found with throat ripped out
3) Male dismembered (off screen)
4) Male shot with arrows and then disemboweled by dogs
5) Female has throat slit with bowie knife
6) Male stabbed with arrow
7) Female burnt to death
8) Male shot through the head with a crossbow
9) Male falls off cliff