Director – Michael J. Bassett, Screenplay – Dario Poloni, Producers – Robert Bernstein, John McDonnell & Douglas Rae, Photography – Peter J. Robertson, Music – Mark Thomas, Digital Effects – The Mill, London, Special Effects Supervisor – Martin Neill, Prosthetic Makeup Effects – Geoff Portass, Production Design – Tom McCullagh. Production Company – Momentum Pictures/UK Film Council/Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission/Baker Street/Ecosse Films/Take Partnerships/Wilderness Films Ltd
Toby Kebbell (Callum), Sean Pertwee (Jed Wiler), Alex Reid (Louise Dow), Stephen Wight (Steve), Luke Neal (Lewis), Karly Greene (Jo), Adam Deacon (Blue), Ben McKay (Lindsay), Lenora Crichlow (Mandy), Richie Campbell (Jethro), Stephen Don (Dave’s Father), John Travers (Dave), Joe Rea (Counsellor John), George Shane (Governor)
Callum is placed in the Morgate prison for youth offenders. In his dormitory, he witnesses casual bullying of the weaker boys. One of the bullied boys Dave then commits suicide. In the aftermath, all six of the remaining boys from the dormitory are taken away to The Island, a former military training area that has been turned over to Morgate for use in wilderness survival courses. Upon arriving, they find that a group from a rival girls’ prison are also on the island. Someone then starts attacking both groups, using hunting weapons and a team of trained dogs. With all the adults killed, the teenagers are forced to survive by themselves with nothing but a single hunting knife to defend themselves against their unseen attacker.
Wilderness – which should not be confused with the also worthwhile British mini-series Wilderness (1996) about a woman who discovers herself as a werewolf – is one of a new breed of independent British horror films that have started to emerge in the 00s. This new wave of British horror has been spearheaded by directors like Neil Marshall of Dog Soldiers (2002) and The Descent (2005) fame; Christopher Smith, the director of Creep (2004), Severance (2006), Triangle (2009) and Black Death (2010); and Adam Mason who made Broken (2006). Wilderness comes from Michael J. Bassett who had previously made the WWI haunted trenches film Deathwatch (2002) and subsequently made an adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane (2009) and Silent Hill: Revelation (2012).
I enjoyed Wilderness for Michael J. Bassett’s willingness to take an audience out on a limb and then pull the carpet out from them in a big way. There is a jolting scene some 20 minutes into the film where Sean Pertwee is abruptly shot by arrows, only for the dogs to arrive seconds later, biting Pertwee’s fingers off, devouring his face and then tearing open and feasting on his intestines. The scene is a considerable shock, none the more so for its abruptly coming out of nowhere and in Bassett’s willingness to push it to a high level of gore, as well as killing off the most well-known member of the cast so early in the show. While we are still reeling from that, a couple of minutes later Bassett jolts us even further by (apparently) killing off Alex Reid, the only other adult present.
There are some unnerving shocks and jolts throughout. Like where Luke Neal starts to beat Adam Deacon up, the others intervene to pull them apart and while we are sidetracked by the fight, Deacon walks away, only to get his foot caught in a bear trap. The scene does not end there – while the others try to free him, the dogs come. Unable to free him, they debate about cutting his foot off, only for him to try to wrench it free, the foot to then snap off at the ankle and he to fall and impale himself on another trap. Or when a wounded Alex Reid lies down and the grass right beside her moves and reveals it is their camouflaged stalker who slides a knife to her throat without her noticing anything. Michael J. Bassett evokes some genuine teeth-bared tension during the teens’ flight from the pursuing dogs, Toby Kebbell’s knife fight with a dog in the surf and the climactic scenes.
Michael J. Bassett’s forte is an ability to draw tight and convincing characters. The harsh environment of the prison – the bullying, the ineffectuality of social services in trying to offer solutions – is demonstrated in a series of quick and effective scenes. Toby Kebbell gives a fine performance as the brooding and intelligent loner hero Callum. Alex Reid, one of the team of women spelunkers from The Descent, demonstrates a strong intelligence as the women’s leader. There is also a tough performance from Stephen Wight who reveals his character as an incredibly nasty piece of work throughout. The revelation of the killer’s identity and motivation comes as contrived, otherwise Wilderness works with an uncommon degree of tension and effectiveness.