Wednesday, 18 September 2019

The Isle ★★★☆☆

For as long as there is storytelling, there will be tales of the supernatural. As we get no closer to proving or disproving the existence of the paranormal, people will continue to be frightened of spooky happenings and bumps in the night. Combine that with isolation and a period setting and it seems like nowadays, you’re onto a winner. Director Matthew Butler-Hart has cashed in on this recent trend, co-writing this intriguing tale with his partner Tori Butler-Hart (who stars). This is The Isle.

When three shipwrecked sailors land on an abandoned Scottish island that has four sole residents, one of the men starts to question what happened. The residents of the isle are strangely reluctant to help the shipwrecked sailors get off this mysterious island, and soon the group find himself in a fight to save their own lives while trying to uncover the truth and escape. This is classic folk horror through and through, like the sort of tale you were told by the fire as a kid. After an explosive period of folk horror in the 60s and 70s courtesy of Hammer and filmmakers like Robin Hardy (The Wicker Man), we still get some frightening takes on the genre to this day – the most recent probably being The Witch.

While the film lacks the religious overtones and ritualistic sacrifice of The Wicker Man, there are certainly similarities. An isolated Scottish island with the most unhelpful and creepy residents this side of Summerisle, promising boats that never come and generally trapping our heroes on an island that would certainly get a low TripAdvisor review…from anyone lucky enough to escape. As the sailors gradually succumb to the evil of the island, we learn about the history of the place through flashbacks that explain a curse that owns the island. But this is not a big, showy horror – don’t expect money shots of monsters, gore and jump scares. This is a very understated gothic tale that with a very slow-burning and yet palpable sense of dread throughout.

The cinematography from Pete Wallington makes the island itself the film’s main character, as the isolation creates some of the most frightening shots of the film. That atmosphere is ominous and mysterious, complemented perfectly by Tom Kane’s haunting score and the film’s bleakly beautiful visuals. Performance-wise, the film leaves a little to be desired. Despite Varys himself Conleth Hill starring in the film, he can’t save it from an otherwise subpar cast. The cast certainly reflect the film’s budget and it does create for some cringey scenes which do feel a little made-for-TV, but that’s to be expected with these little films. The film is at its most frightening when there is no acting in it at all – it is the ominous landscape that offers the most frights.

The Isle is unfortunately nowhere near a modern classic like other similar recent films like The Witch, but there is still plenty here to enjoy – if nothing else, it serves as simultaneously a great and an awful advert for Scotland. Yeah, it looks beautiful, but it also looks bloody terrifying…On the whole, weak performances, a low budget and an iffy screenplay thwart the film from achieving its potential but there is enough here to send a shiver or two down your spine… 

Sam Love

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