June 2007

The Wanderer

The Wanderer The Wanderer is the sort of film that I really would have liked to have enjoyed more. The acting is solid and the score does give this ghost story a suitably creepy atmosphere.

What’s more, the opening credits give us a grainily tantalising glimpse of some violent event, and everything is set up rather nicely.

Then we get into the film itself, which opens with a funeral for Sarah (Erika Smith) who, despite appearing to be a happy well-adjusted young woman in the flashbacks, can only manage two mourners. The mourners are her two best friends – Gina (Taya Asimos) and Lucy (Liz DiPrinzio) - and, as the film starts, Father O’Neal (Cliff Poche) is winding up the service.

The two women start heading for home. And then it’s night and they’re still driving.

I know I’m being picky here but this sort of thing really jerks me out of the film. And it’s unnecessary. While I recognise that it’s suitably atmospheric to set a ghost story at night, it’s not an obligation and if the characters set off in the early afternoon, suddenly jumping to midnight simply doesn’t work.

But back to the plot.

A young woman steps out in front of the car, forcing an emergency stop. Her dark hair hangs in front of her face – reminiscent, more than anything of Sadako in Ringu – slightly obscuring her features. And this brings me to my real problem with this film.

It is painfully obvious who this young woman is, but both Gina and Lucy completely fail to recognise her. The result is that you find yourself impatiently waiting for the inevitable twist and, more seriously, not really caring about any of the characters.

It’s a shame because there is a good story in here, but it’s buried under an overly conventional narrative structure.

Last of the Scottish Wildcats

Last of the Scottish Wildcats Wildcats have lived in Britain for more than two million years, sharing their territories with the mammoth, the cave bear and the cave lion long before humans had made their way through the forests of Europe. Some 9000 years ago, as the last ice age came to an end and sea levels rose, isolating the British Isles from mainland Europe, the wildcat population here became isolated and evolved into a unique species: felis sylvestris grampia, the Scottish wildcat.

Given that the Scottish wildcat is Britain’s last wild feline and infamous amongst experts for being the wildest of wild animals, I was a bit surprised to discover that Last of the Scottish Wildcats is only the second film to document this animal.

The film starts with some stunning views of the Scottish Highlands, not only capturing very effectively the stark beauty of this environment but also – with the help of a narration from David Goodall – giving a real sense of the harshness of the conditions under which this species has evolved.

The Scottish wildcat is a very impressive animal and the excellently narrated and compelling photography really does capture this well. It is well adapted to survive the harshest of Scottish winters and, pound for pound, is one of the world’s most dangerous predators and we do, as an audience, get a real sense of this.

But not everything is rosy in the Scottish wildcat’s world.

After centuries of persecution, deforestation and competition from introduced species, the Scottish wildcat is a seriously endangered species. It is estimated that there are less than 400 Scottish wildcats left in the world and extinction could be as little as ten years away.

And this brings us to the real heart of Last of the Scottish Wildcats, which is an exploration of the challenges faced by the species and a look at what people are trying to do to ensure its continued viability.

This investigation is achieved largely through a series of interviews with the people directly involved in the conservation of the Scottish wildcat. Some people, of course, interview better than others but what does come across very consistently is the real passion that these people have for their cause and a very real understanding not only of the difficulties they are facing but also of how they can reasonably overcome them.

Last of the Scottish Wildcats is a very complete documentary in that it covers not only the animal itself, but also the human reaction to it, and a thorough analysis of its conservation status and what can be – and is being – done to preserve this wildest of wild animals.

By pulling together some stunning photography, an atmospheric score and some unequivocal discussions with some of the people directly involved in the ongoing survival of this species, director Steve Piper has made a genuinely fascinating, and inspiring, documentary.

Profits from this film are to be shared with the Scottish Wildcat Association, a newly formed charity working to conserve the Scottish Wildcat.

Heading Home

Heading Home Writer/director Jane Rose has a real feel for Lovecraftian horror, as she demonstrated admirably with her The Statement of Randolph Carter segment in LovecraCked! Heading Home is in a very similar vein but, this time, based on a 1978 short story by Ramsey Campbell, a writer who is widely recognised as one of the masters of horror fiction and one whose early work was very heavily influenced by the work of H. P. Lovecraft.

The film opens with someone – or something – awakening in a basement.

We are then introduced to Marie (Jenny Mundy-Castle) who really wants to know what is going on in her husband, Edward’s (Ean Sheehy) lab. Edward, an aggressively obsessive character, is receiving a steady stream of strange deliveries from The Butcher (Chuck Bunting), whose prices appear to be rising.

Eventually Maries curiosity gets the better of her…

Where Heading Home really delivers is in the powerfully oppressive atmosphere that pervades the entire film. Visually the film manages to convey a real sense of menace throughout and this is underscored perfectly with a sparingly used but very effective score.

Told primarily from Marie’s point of view, but with regular reminders about the thing in the basement, Heading Home is a straightforward, but very tightly scripted story. I have to admit to not having read the short story on which this film is based, but it does capture very effectively the feel of Campbell’s Lovecraftian storytelling.

With the emphasis on atmosphere rather than gore, the way that the characters react to what they see and hear is significant. All three of the main characters put in very theatrical performances which generate a real sense that there is something here that we really don’t want to see.

Jenny Mundy-Castle deserves a mention here for bringing real believability to her character. Initially, she is the downtrodden spouse who knows that something is going on but is uncertain as to how she should confront it. Once she does discover the source of the strange sounds behind the door, however, Marie’s attitude changes significantly and it is to Mundy-Castle’s credit that she is able make this transition while retaining the sympathy of the audience.

Superbly scripted, well acted and shot through with a real sense of menace, Heading Home finishes with a surprise ending that manages to not only be very effective indeed, but also neatly pulls together everything that has gone before.