Wilderness (2006)
By: Liam Ronan on December 18, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Momentum, UK Region 2 PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. English (FHI) Subtitles. 90 minutes
The Movie
Director: Michael J. Bassett Starring: Sean Pertwee, Alex Reid, Toby Kebbell, Stephen Wight, Adam Deacon, Richie Campell, Ben McKay, Luke Neal, Lenora Crichlow, Karly Greene, Stephen Don
Screenplay: Dario Poloni Music: Martin Low Mark, Thomas
Tagline: Doon't go down to the woods today.
Country: UK
A cracking addition to the survival horror sub-genre, Wilderness uses the best elements of Hunter's Blood, Rituals, Just Before Dawn and Survival Quest to deliver some mean, fast paced and blood-soaked entertainment.

When the relentless bullying of a youth custody inmate ends in his bloody suicide, the young offenders who hounded him to his death are packed off to Wilderness, an offshore island used by the prison service for rehabilitation and team building exercises.

Arriving on the island, they find that an all-girl group from a neighbouring institution has already set up camp. Trouble flares as the prison officers struggle to keep the two groups apart, but teenage lust, racially motivated violence and anti-social behaviour quickly become the least of their worries when a camouflaged killer starts hunting them down with a crossbow, some mantraps and a pack of very hungry dogs…

With a basic slasher movie plot welded to a strong central idea and supported by some great performances and memorably nasty ultra violence, Wilderness won't win any awards for subtlety. But it certainly delivers the goods for fans of horror and violent action flicks - the violence is extreme, the isolated location is menacing and the killer is a sick fuck who wants his victims to suffer as much as possible before they die horribly.

The main characters are an odious bunch of young rapists, racists, armed robbers and violent thugs. The bullying that starts the film is heavy stuff and sets the tone for what follows. In the wake of the beatings, intimidation and enforced golden showers, it's difficult to root for the characters when the hunt begins, but the film's shocking violence works to counter your basic dislike of them. Faced with brutal beheadings, frenzied dismemberments, sadistic burnings and worse, you simply don't want them to fall into the killer's clutches. The 'Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left Of Them?' tagline from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre sprang to mind several times while watching Wilderness. Who needs a chainsaw when you've got a pack of flesh-ripping hounds?

The cast is peppered with familiar faces from British television and even Alex Reid from The Descent has a minor role, but special mention must be made of Stephen Wright as a skinhead thug. He delivers a truly chilling study of a young psychopath who can turn on anyone, even his best friend, at any moment. Like Begbie in Trainspotting, what he lacks in stature he more than makes up for with sheer viciousness. And you'd never recognise supposed hero Toby Kebbell as the retarded young brother from Dead Man's Shoes, either. Here he's a troubled, selfish thug full of pent up rage, the only one of the group strong enough to take on the killer after a spot of Lord of The Flies-like regression. But the film never lets you forget that as violent as the young offenders may be, the killer is a hundred times worse.

A case in point is the demise of one character who ends up pinned to a tree by several crossbow bolts. After his trained dogs silently surround the victim, the killer simply waits, enjoying the victim's fear and terror. Then, with a shrill whistle from their owner, the dogs attack, ripping the character to bits in what is probably the most stomach-churning dog attack ever put on film. Believe me, this beats seven shades out of similar scenes from the likes of The Beyond or Suspiria and generates some much needed concern for the fate of the remaining characters.

On the down side, the island is far too big to be believable. Establishing shots reveal huge tracts of forest, craggy peaks, miles of rugged coastline - where are they exactly, Wales? The film was actually lensed on the coast of Northern Ireland, and one shot near the end of the film uses what appears to be a small island in a lake to double for the supposed setting. The calm blue lake waters simply don't match the choppy waves of the film's ocean scenes. The final scene also comes across as lightweight after the carnage that has preceded it, and some of the dialogue is cheesy, but there are plenty of classic moments and memorable lines to keep the film from getting lost along the way.

Wilderness probably suffered from emerging at the same time as the superior Severence, another British film with which it shares some similarities - not least of all a scene where a character loses a leg in the teeth of a mantrap. It's a pity, because this is still good, solid entertainment and well worth your time and money. It's also a much better movie than director Michael J Bassett's patchy debut effort, Deathwatch.

Useless trivia: The chilling scenes of the forest floor coming to life as the camouflaged killer stalks his prey are lifted wholesale from early 80s slasher flick The Final Terror, and you know what? It still works.
A fine, crisp transfer, but as the film is mainly set in grim borstals and murky woods, it only really comes alive colour-wise during scenes filmed on the striking Irish coastline. Nothing to complain about here, though.
Dolby Digital 5.1 provides some lovely sharp contrasts and really adds to the atmosphere and horror. When the killer brings his hounds to heel before ordering them to unleash a brutal attack that fills the soundtrack with flesh-tearing growls and hideous screams, it's powerful stuff.
Extra Features
This release offers some interesting behind the scenes footage of filming and a trailer. I especially liked seeing the mantrap and dog attack scenes being filmed, and it was nice to see the odd deleted scene in there, too.
The Verdict
A gore-soaked throwback to the days of the video nasty. This one goes for the throat!
Movie Score
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