Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Dark Mile (2017)

Starring: Rebecca Calder, Deirdre Mullins, Sheila Hancock, Paul Brannigan, Finlay MacMillan

Directed by: Gary Love

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

What do you get if you remix The Wicker Man, Don't Look Now, Deliverance and Scream, all on a very low budget?

You get engaging rural gothic stalker thriller The Dark Mile, set in a Scottish Highlands that is at once gloriously beautiful, eerily mysterious and hideously backward, rife with homophobia and pagan superstition and totally bereft of wifi and decent red wine.

Thirtysomething couple Louise (Rebecca Calder) and Clare (Deirdre Mullins) have come on holiday by mistake. Well, Clare has anyway. Louise (wistful, whey-faced, clad in sensible waterproofs and walking boots) has rented a boat to sail the lochs. Clare (loud, careless, clad in fluffy gillet and chunky heels, glued to her iPhone) is not so convinced. And that's even before they've met the locals...

Deirdre Mullins and Rebecca Calder as Claire and Louise in The Dark Mile

The Dark Mile is certainly not a perfect film. The Scottish stereotypes grate, the plot depends on too many daft contrivances (like why would anyone who's come on holiday without their charger buy a new phone, instead of just, you know, buying a new charger?) and the rural gothic hallmarks are a little too blatantly signposted (weird objects hanging from trees? Check! Altar to a Celtic god in the pub? Check! Gross injury that refuses to heal? You get the picture...)

The Dark Mile is, however, the kind of film I really like, playing with our expectations, prodding us to question whether the unsettling events that occur are genuinely supernatural, a locals' mean prank on these arrogant city dwellers or the product of a disturbed mind, as Louise struggles to come to terms with a past trauma.

The ending is a little weak, but then this is not the ending director Gary Love initially envisaged (his first idea was far more dramatic, very Wicker Man, and sadly also unfeasable on the film's limited budget). If/when the film is released, I'd like to see the original concept restored as it sounds much more fitting.

All in all, while much of the film feels a bit of a rehash, other parts are a breath of fresh air – the lesbian lead couple, for starters, and the refreshing lack of hero to rush to the rescue. Plus it's always a treat to see Sheila Hancock on screen, even if she is playing a crazy old Highland hippy lady. So, a brave attenpt to breathe new life into the rural horror tradition. I'll drink house red to that. While weird locals stare at me. Can't wait for my holiday in Argyll next week...

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