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Wilderness (2006)
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by Jay Seaver

"Not a good spot for an island vacation."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: "Wilderness" has a cast just primed for whittling. We're introduced to seven youthful offenders in the opening segment; it's not long after they're sent to an abandoned island for an exercise in teamwork that three women join them. Don't expect the island's population to stay in double digits for long, though - and don't expect the culling to be anything less than nasty.

The lads are doing the outward bound thing because one of them, Davie, slit his throat in response to the constant bullying he and Lindsay (Ben McKay) received, mostly at the hands of skinhead Steve (Stephen Wight) and his mate Lewis (Luke Neal), though the others in their bunkroom - Blue (Adam Deacon), Jethro (Richie Campbell), and newcomer Callum (rumored to have killed a fellow inmate at a previous facility) - haven't exactly done much to stop it. The island their guard Jed (Sean Pertwee) takes them to is former Army property now given over to the prison system. They're supposed to have it to themselves, but Louise (Alex Reid) and her two charges, Jo (Karly Greene) and Marcy (Lenora Crichlow), are there "building character" as well. And none of them know who (or what) else they're sharing the island with.

The revelation of the island's other inhabitant(s) comes earlier than it might, but it's late and important enough to be a surprise worth preserving. Part of the answer is "dogs", big German Shepards numerous and vicious enough to be described as a pack. Your garden-variety German Shepard is as imposing a marauder as any number of made-up predators, and these are not simple wild dogs. Even if they were, that would be quite enough; the lads are all city boys and quite un-used to dogs being such an actively hostile (and out of their control) part of the environment.

As the film goes on, it becomes clear that the dogs and any other external threat are not the only problems, or even necessarily the most dangerous. The power structures and animosities from the detention facility have been retained and a common adversary may not be cause for a truce - indeed, it may just serve to create new divisions or render whatever rules are keeping aggressions in check meaningless. Some of the most vicious bits of violence only involve whatever is picking teenagers off peripherally, if at all.

Not that any of the action is anything less than intense. The set-up is such that an attack can come out of nowhere at any second, so the audience should always be on the alert, and when the strike comes, it's often an out-and-out bloodletting. The dogs are established as man-eaters early on, and even the audience's most dedicated dog-lovers will probably feel some small amount of exhilaration when the kids take one down. Kills and the aftermath are carried out with sadistic relish, whether face-to-face or from a remove, and with enough variety to please fans of the genre, with at least one combination of elements that was a new one on me.

I'm loath to talk too much about the performances, not because there's a bad one in the lot, but because there are about a dozen speaking parts on the island, and I worry about readers deducing who will live the longest based on on who has the most to write about. Most are unknowns, with the exception being the guards - Sean Pertwee is a horror veteran who could play this sort of tough guy without looking at a script; Alex Reid plays even tougher - she's a former soldier who's used to being underestimated, and is take-charge without being reflexively bitchy. Stephen Wight shines as a teenage sociopath, and it shouldn't be a big surprise to see Tobey Kebbell's Callum quickly take a central role in the action once it gets started; he grabs the center of attention without seeming to make an effort. Adam Deacon and Richie Campbell do a nice job riffing on each other as Blue and Jethro, respectively. Ben McKay as Lindsay and Karly Greene as Jo each have interesting angles on how to survive without the brawn of some of the others, and scenes that show them as more self-aware than they initially appear. Luke Neal and Lenora Crichlow maybe get a somewhat short shrift; Tyler and Marcy kind of wind up being "the other guy/girl".

Director Michael J. Bassett keeps things moving once things start going down; he mentioned during the Q&A that he would have liked to cut ten minutes more from the beginning, just to get us to the meat of the movie quicker, but there's not a whole lot that's extraneous here. He and writer Dario Poloni pace the movie well, playing the internal dissent off the characters being hunted so that neither element takes over the film and renders the other a secondary consideration.

Put it all together, and you get a white-knuckler were anything can happen (and anyone can die). Put it next to "The Descent", and it's no wonder this festival is spotlighting the recent wave of British horror - they're certainly doing something right over there.

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originally posted: 07/16/06 22:32:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantasia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2006 Fantastic Fest series, click here.

User Comments

3/18/07 MP Bartley Really great survivalist horror with lots of interesting characters. Man at his most savage 5 stars
11/09/06 Brian Really scary, really crazy, really good Karly Greene i love you!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
7/29/06 Elisa Lewis Karly Greene was excellent 5 stars
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Directed by
  Michael J. Bassett

Written by
  Dario Poloni

  Sean Pertwee
  Alex Reid
  Tobey Kebbell
  Stephen Wight

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