A dark and atmospheric story of female friendship tested by deceit, betrayal and a terrifying past. Susan, outwardly confident and Becky, more fragile and shy, both in their late twenties, are inseparable friends. But both women have secrets they have not shared, some recent, some long past and deeply buried. When, on a weekend trip to Dartmoor, they encounter the charismatic Chris, they are led into a web of mind games, sexual deceit and betrayal. As Becky's traumatic involvement in Chris' own damaged past is revealed, a psychological journey swiftly becomes a fight for survival.
It “coulda” been a picture to receive a higher rating. It’s shot beautifully, perfectly acted, but the last act of the story completely falls apart.
It “shoulda” been workshopped further; as far as the script. The story issues weren’t insurmountable, but problems left to wither on the vine are still problems nonetheless.
It “woulda” been a top-notch experience, had it overcome these pesky third-act problems and perhaps we’d be looking at a much better rating.
Best friends Becky (Gemma-Leah Devereux) and Susan (Rebecca Night) are taking a girls-only weekend into the English countryside – to have one last fun blow-out before Becky gets married. While in this beautiful and sparsely-populated area, they meet a handsome stranger named Chris (Callum Blue), who – after a fall and a subsequent twisted ankle – convinces the ladies to help him back to his nearby farm. Immediately upon arrival, Susan begins having visions, as if she’s been to this farm before, but she has no solid memories of such things. Chris and Becky quickly begin a courtship. And with the reveal of Chris’ mentally unstable father Tom (recognizable character actor David Hayman) as the only person left from Chris’ family, the clues begin to add up and the mystery of the Dartmoor Killing slowly reveals itself.
Places like rural England – if shot perfectly, as in this film – create gasps of awe. You can’t go wrong with these lush and gorgeous backgrounds – so epic and vast in their scale, it’s practically an ideal tourism video touting the area’s unique wares. And so the work of cinematographer Nick Dance requires heaping helpings of kudos. With lots of quality components in the film (and a big problem which we’ll get to), Dance’s rich compositions and stunning vistas are the true star of Dartmoor Killing.
I was very impressed with the three lead performances. There’s a natural chemistry between Deveruex (looking like a younger sibling of Nicole Kidman) and Night – perfectly illustrating a long and deep friendship between Becky and Susan. There are some reveals later on in the film – nothing terrifying, but it’s nice to see that even with these revelations, the friendship stands strong – certainly as things become dangerous and violent, and the girls stand together. Both women bring the proper amount of confusion, lust for Chris and deep emotion to their roles. It’s the bond of friendship – created by the two talented actresses – which comes in a close second place… just behind the cinematography.
As Chris, Callum Blue is strikingly handsome and I was reminded of the little-seen flick Curve from last year. It stars Julianne Hough and Teddy Sears (American Horror Story: Murder House). Blue brings the same “he’s so handsome and charming, how could he be dangerous?” qualities which Sears did in Curve. It’s ideal casting, as it immediately puts you at ease. But we’ve all seen films like this, so we know that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. And Blue’s best moment comes early in the film, as once he and the girls get to his remote farm, the pronounced and debilitating limp from his sprained ankle – magically disappears.
And now, to the problems. It’s actually only one, but it encompasses a great deal of the film and a big part of the puzzle.
As Susan and Becky become aware of the pending danger, they make several escape attempts. And just when you think the climax is about to begin, it takes a step back and resets. It feels awkward and jerky. The flow doesn’t quite work – taking down the delicate mystery and atmosphere already in place.
Also – early on, the film presents a beautiful location – where Susan and Becky first meet Chris. It’s a dangerous ridge and there’s an exchange about being safe and that it’s treacherous, etc. It’s a bit of foreshadowing (or at least it appears to be) and you’ll fully expect that this will come into play in the film’s climax. While I’m never a big of fan of overzealous foreshadowing and the filmmakers pointing out things which are obviously an important detail for later – Dartmoor Killing sort of returns to the location (at least close by) in the film’s final moments. And the way it ends is nowhere near what you’d expect. Which means – in this case – that whole ridge danger and promise of re-use is pointless. Its intro and then zero payoff – actually feels strange. Perhaps it was introduced in such a way and then meant to defy expectations. “Surprise, we set you up and then didn’t use it!” If that was the case, this trick failed.
The film falls apart in its third act. As in (seemingly) all horror/thriller films post-The Sixth Sense, you need a big surprise. And it’s not that you’ll necessarily see this one coming – although it is clear that Susan has been to the farm before – it’s just that it’s not terribly well done. And with the above-mentioned jerkiness and repetitiveness, the entire final half hour becomes a yawn.
The film won Best Screenplay at the inaugural Horror Haus Film Festival for writer Isabelle Grey and writer/director Peter Nicholson, but frankly, I don’t know why. Any of the other technical achievements would have been far more worthy of commendation. As for the script, it was sorely lacking and absolutely not something which warranted awards.
Dartmoor Killing is not a total bust. You’ve got great performances, likeable and attractive actors, locations to die for (ahem) and camerawork which captures the beauty, mystery and timelessness of those locations. You’re just going to be let down by the herky-jerky climax, the ending and the so-so reveal.
The film has played at several film festivals, and is now available on DVD/VOD.