Dark Nature

Dark Nature


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Dark Nature opens, aptly, with a time-lapse image of the tide rapidly rising and receding in a Scottish Highlands firth. Like those waters, Marc de Launay's feature debut skips along at a brisk pace, coming in at an economic 76 minutes – and in what follows we shall see a different kind of ebb and flow, as what goes around comes around in a repeating pattern of karmic pollution and purification.

The estuary itself is more grey than red, with only the odd discarded bottle (or body) to disrupt what one character describes as its "very fragile ecosystem" – but nonetheless, the setting is to become A Bay of Blood, resurrecting scenes and ideas from Mario Bava's lurid 1971 giallo in a newly Scottish context, and with some of the ecological anxieties of Long Weekend (1978) thrown in for good measure.

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Right from the first sequence, old Mrs Petrie (Doreen McGillivray) is done in with her own typewriter, only for her killer (and husband) Jonathan (James Bryce) to be murdered at the scene by an unknown third party. Here killing is infectious, and it will not be long before Mrs Petrie's adult daughter Jane (Vanya Eadie), Jane's current boyfriend Alex (Len McCaffer) and Jane's own children Chloe (Imogen Toner) and Sean (Callum Warren Brooker), will all come a-visiting from the city, headed for some kind of doom. Early victims will include their friends and guests Emily (Joanna Miller) and Gary (Iain Andrews), apparently there just for the chop.

Viewers are invited to spend the first half of the film trying to figure out if the heavy-breathing slasher is the creepy video-obsessed environmentalist John Haywood (Tom Carter) nextdoor, his kooky psychic wife Magda (Jane Stabler), or Mrs Petrie's tool-happy groundsman Mackenzie (Niall G Fulton). Once the killer's identity has been revealed, the significantly named Petrie family become the subjects of something like one of Haywood's beloved experiments in entropy. From here on in, the film is part slash-and-dash, part domestic psychodrama, and all confounded with dream sequences, tarot premonitions and bizarre roadkill POVs.

The results are messy – and not just because of the odd splash of gore. Screenwriter Eddie Harrison certainly overdetermines events, but Dark Nature is never thrilling or scary enough for its disparate parts to add up to anything appealingly uncanny. It probably does not help that the characters – and some of the actors too – come across so stiff and unengaging.

"Come on, let's go back, I hate the countryside – there's nothing here," Alex complains to Jane outside Mrs Petrie's remote coastal home, before adding, "It's full of murderers and rapists." He is not wrong: for once the tide of genre trappings (murder, mayhem, matricide) has rushed in and drained away again, we are left with only the film's essential emptiness. And even if that reflects the note of moral chaos on which Dark Nature ends, there is still nothing, or at least not a lot, here. Still, the locations are well used, as this dysfunctional urban family is drawn back to nature.

Reviewed on: 06 Jan 2013
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A woman and her family come under attack while on holiday in the Highlands.
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Director: Marc de Launay

Writer: Eddie Harrison

Starring: Vanya Eadie, Niall G. Fulton, Len McCaffer, Imogen Toner, Callum Warren Brooke, Tom Carter

Year: 2009

Runtime: 76 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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Long Weekend