Set against a cold but stunning Scottish landscape, The Dark Mile brings us a tense thriller that strives to be something more than your average suspense movie (and fails).
The plot follows a couple, Claire and Louise, as they try to escape from the trauma of losing a baby. They take themselves far away from home, into the almost empty rivers and lakes of Scotland. Travelling the area by boat, they find themselves in a remote area that seems full of strange noises, animals, and (frankly) Scottish weirdos. As the two struggle through their own issues, the rising tension is split between Louise’s increasing manic behaviour and the strange actions of those around them. The film works well to question whether it is Louise herself who is imagining these things, or the actions of other characters.
It is pleasing when jump scares are used for effect rather than as filler, and while this film remains tense throughout it is not overbearing. Directed by Gary Love, the film is a thriller set against the “fucking majestic” Scottish lakes and rivers. The cinematography is a delight, making you not want to tear your eyes away from the screen despite the inevitable horrors. The building of odd local folklore into the plot is much more subtle than the trailer might suggest, which is lucky as it was something I was concerned about going into the showing. Instead, the plot works to create several different kinds of fear which build to a crescendo.
a thriller filmed with great care, with the visuals difficult to get away from
Much of the film plays upon the frights of nature, with the nighttime noises and rustling of animals using our own irrational fears of the dark. It is a very tangible fear to recreate, with the plot building alongside this, but never quite fulfilling the promised source of these fears.
The cast is very well fit for their roles, with Rebecca Calder (Louise) shining both in her ability to be both victim and source of unpredictability, as well as her seemingly perfect fit for the Scottish landscape. I can understand why her sometimes dark brown hair was made red for the role, and it’s difficult not to admire the aesthetic of it. It is a thriller filmed with great care, with the visuals difficult to get away from.
visually pleasing, but let down by a confused plot
However, this is where the praise stops. There are several problems with the plot, and ultimately what is built in the first half of the movie seems to be left unexplained or explained in such a way that you’d prefer they hadn’t tried at all. While Louise is seen doing some pretty strange things in the first half, which perhaps suggested at something to do with overarching plot, it is seemingly completely unrelated. Likewise, another essential part of building the tension turns out to be nothing at all. The resulting end to the plot does not live up to the atmosphere it builds before it. While some moments seem to work well earlier on, they are lost to this lack of a coherent plotline in the end. The last part of the movie is almost rushed, which seems especially distinctive after the slow burning plot that came before.
It’s lucky that the movie doesn’t fall into the trap of letting the main characters act in a obviously silly way. Both act with a certain caution (apart from getting the hell out of there), and it’s much more satisfying to watch when they’re not actively making their situation worse for themselves. But the film lacks a certain palpable fear, perhaps due to several sources of plot development that intersect but never intertwine.
The Dark Mile is a mixed bag. While it is visually pleasing, it is let down by a confused plot. Either way, however, it’s safe to say I won’t be visiting Scottish lakes anytime soon.
‘The Dark Mile’ is now playing at the Raindance Film Festival 2017, taking place from 20th September to 1st October. Information and tickets here.
Image: The Dark Mile