“Wilderness”, Michael Bassett’s follow-up to his World War I horror movie “Death Watch” can best be described as “Lords of the Flies” meets “Friday the 13th”. The film concerns an intrepid band of delinquent teens who, after one of their own commits suicide due to bullying, are sentenced to become one with nature at a remote island. They are watched over by Jed (British genre horror mainstay Sean Pertwee), who soon takes a couple of crossbow bolts to the body and is dispensed with.
This leaves the delinquents and a couple of female counterparts whose own chaperone, the seriously sexy Louise (Alex Reid, “Arachnid”) has already taken a dive off a cliff (a dog’s teeth attached to her neck, no less) and presumed dead. With a brutal hunter skilled in ambush and military Special Forces training after their tail for reasons unknown (but I’m sure you can figure it out, or if you can’t, the film tells you at the 40-minute mark), the delinquents must put aside their differences and fight back. Or maybe not. Actually, the delinquents never really put aside anything, and instead bicker and threaten to gut each other throughout much of the movie.
After he secures Louise’s wayward hunting knife, Callum becomes the de facto alpha male of the group, although the sadistic Steve (Stephen Wight) and his no-good henchman Lewis (Luke Neal) might have something to say about that. Then again, considering that they’re all pretty much a bunch of no-good, has-nothing-for-society types, I’m putting all my money on the elusive, dangerous, and dog-weaponized (you’ll see what I mean) hunter chasing them. If I knew these kids, I might want to stalk them like animals on a remote island.
The pure unlikeability of the cast doesn’t harm the film as much as you might think. One of the more annoying aspects of the contemporary American teen horror film is how easily it is to pick out the survivors from the spam. In the case of “Wilderness”, there really is no sense who is going to die first, or who will survive. (Which doesn’t mean you can’t figure it out; genre vets shouldn’t have too much difficulty identifying the survivors.) And since the characters are all fair game (to the film’s killer as well as the audience in terms of wanting them to survive), the fun is watching them getting knocked off one by one in grisly, bloody ways. In the film’s parlance, the world is better off without any of these wankers reproducing.
As with his debut “Death Watch”, director Michael J. Bassett continues to show a willingness to get down and dirty with his horror. The bloodied, disease-ridden trenches of World War I in “Death Watch” were possibly more frightening than the ghost story, and likewise with the vile nature of the characters here. The only real innocents in the film are the girls, but that’s only because we don’t know them, and their introduction seems haphazard at best, superfluous at worst. Except for one plot where one of the girls takes a liking to Lewis and vice versa, and begins to pull the simpleminded henchman away from his skinhead master Steve, the presence of the girls really don’t do much for the movie in terms of story.
There is much to like about “Wilderness”, including the raw violence on display. The kills are quite creative, with bear traps, crossbows, and vicious hunting dogs that apparently were raised on human meat. Much of the violence is in your face, with some superfluous CGI effects to add to the gory details. The killer himself is quite the dangerous figure — that is, until he pulls off his ghillie suit to start telling the kids why he’s stalking them. At this point, the killer becomes all to vulnerable, not to mention slow on the draw. Shouldn’t a seasoned hunter and former Special Forces soldier, who has a crossbow aimed at his target, be able to shoot the target before the target can flip a knife and throw said knife at him? Apparently not.
Despite its “Lord of the Flies” resemblances, “Wilderness” is mostly standard Slasher fare. The situation may be different, the accents are harder to understand, but there’s no denying the Teen Slasher formula being applied here. As such, “Wilderness” is not really as original as it could have been, and its characters are all one-dimensional personality types. The vile Steve and his simple-minded henchman Lewis, the rebel Callum, and the clueless authority figure Jed. The girls, as mentioned, barely have any personality, and seem to have been thrown into the mix with the sole intention of spicing up the bodycount. It’s too bad Alex Reid leaves the movie so quickly, though…
What does help “Wilderness” rise above standard genre fare is its brutality and gritty realism. The film’s unlikeable characters free us from having to sympathize or care about their well-being, and the thrill of watching these sad sacks get hunted down, chewed on by dogs, and bloodied in various ways is quite entertaining. I have to admit, I’ve never really seen a Slasher movie where I wanted everyone to be hacked to pieces. Bassett has done well in his sophomore effort, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a really great horror movie come from him in the near future.
Michael J. Bassett (director) / Dario Poloni (screenplay)
CAST: Lenora Crichlow … Mandy
Stephen Don …. The Hunter
Toby Kebbell …. Callum
Ben McKay …. Lindsay
Luke Neal …. Lewis
Sean Pertwee …. Jed
Alex Reid …. Louise
Stephen Wight …. Steve