To help in recovering from a personal tragedy, girlfriends Louise and Claire take a boating holiday to the Highlands. But upon arriving at their rural destination it soon becomes apparent that their attempt to experience a quiet idyll might prove permanently harmful to their continued wellbeing.
More horror movies need to be set in the north of Scotland. Its vast swathes of untamed wilds and sparsely populated areas are perfect locations to play out sinister goings on away from prying eyes and with little in the way of authority to offer as a safety net to any intruding outsiders. In keeping with this, the setting is one of the few good things you can say about The Dark Mile. The sparse wilderness is at once expansive yet oppressive, a sense of otherworldliness gradually seeping in from the overcast desolation.
There are suggestions both subtle and overt that something untoward and/or inexplicable is going on, and the suspicious behaviour of the locals certainly implies that all is not well in the picturesque countryside. Some visual cues imply what might be happening, but overall the film assumes a far greater familiarity with Celtic folklore than is reasonable, expecting the audience to infer an entire story via small background details and flashes of symbolism. Yes, it’s always preferable for mysteries to be implied rather than explicitly spelled out, but in this case there isn’t enough in the way of digestible information to form a proper picture of what’s happening.
The characters appear to be archetypes from myths updated to the present day, each playing an ordained role in a pre-specified narrative, and as such most of their behaviour doesn’t correspond with how real people would act and react in any given situation. There is some concession to realistic interaction with regards to Louise and Claire’s reception upon arrival, being a lesbian couple visiting a small community presumably driven by insular tradition their isolation is amplified by how out of place they are made to feel. However, whatever tension the film manages to build is eventually squandered as little of any note actually occurs, while the implied escalation into something akin to Deliverance with highlanders never materialises, and the closest thing to excitement – a brief Duel-style barge chase – is over too quickly to leave any impact.
Ordinarily it’s bad form for a review to reference a film’s ending, but in this case it’s unavoidable, as it pertains to The Dark Mile’s most glaring problem, specifically that the entire final third of the plot appears to be missing. At precisely the turning point in the story where it seems to be about to progress to some explanation of exactly what the hell is going on and then be followed by a resolution of some description, the film instead just... stops. It’s an unsatisfying payoff for an already unfocused story, and one that instead of the mysterious ambiguity that was attempted, instead leaves a frustrated feeling of being cheated.
THE DARK MILE / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR: GARY LOVE / SCREENPLAY: GABY HULL / STARRING: REBECCA CALDER, DEIRDRE MULLINS, FINLAY MACMILLAN, PAUL BRANNIGAN, SHEILA HANCOCK / RELEASE DATE: TBA
Expected Rating: 7/10