The Dark Mile


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Dark Mile
"Watchable, even occasionally thrilling, but The Dark Mile does not shine."

A couple, after a loss, on a boat. A monochrome hospital corridor, a flash of DSLR and sonogram. A couple, after a loss, on a boat. Claire (Deirdre Mullins), Louise (Rebecca Calder), and the Orca. Trolley on tiles gives way to a 51 foot ketch, Orca. There are strains in the relationship, and time on Highland canals might not suit them. "30K on... IVF and now she's Captain Ahab?"

Calmly eschew email. Isolate protagonists. Communication issues are established with spotty telephony on northbound trains, the guy at the dock explains the wifi on the boat is constantly breaking down. Find a way to hark back to a simpler time, when all that had to be worried about was the horizon and the offing - what's seen, and unseen, and no means to move information across that boundary. The Dark Mile's set up gives it a ghost of a chance, but even with a generous spirit it doesn't quite materialise.

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Orca is a whale, but the nautical nonsense it's reminiscent of isn't any filmed version of Moby Dick but Quint's cutter in Jaws - there's a hunt here, but the quarry is a ketch, the pursuer not a great white but a lumbering work barge, a shadow on the water. A slow game of cat and mouse that takes a leaf from another Spielberg pursuit to create something akin to a duel. Here though it's a couple pursued by something else akin to a family. Something ripe with symbolism, dolls-heads and skulls, the antlers of a stag, rust and decay. Something that doesn't quite work.

There are good, even stunning moments: glorious valley shots, "60 miles of isolation... fucking majestic"; Jim Williams' music is all plucked strings, a tension between jaunt and menace; a dock framed as a headless cross, all at once resurrection and creation, a wary walk on water. There are moments that are more derivative, the pitch here doesn't seal the cracks in something clinker-built from a production synopsis of "Deliverance meets Rosemary’s Baby". There are debts to pay beyond that, and older folks might recognise more than just the landscape. If Summer Isle were inverted, canals might carry the same sort of dark bounty as the gulf stream. The Well of Seven Heads is real, and there's a beast of that description in the bible, but for all that The Dark Mile is grounded and does its best to be watertight, it's free from revelation.

Gaby Hull's script and Gary Love's direction are competent, and everything just about hangs together, and as a debut feature for Hull and another outing for intermittent actor/(TV) director/producer Love it demonstrates their ability to make something watchable, even occasionally thrilling, but The Dark Mile does not shine. Solid performances from its small cast at times veer close to discomfiting cliche, and the blood and soil and ancient ways feel more like same old stories than dark traditions. The pace of its unfolding is driven by its setting, but it does not leave upset in its wake. Ups, downs, perhaps even unsettling, but once its secrets are unlocked it returns to something flat. Even constrained, the pressure it builds isn't quite enough to elevate it.

Reviewed on: 06 Feb 2018
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The Dark Mile packshot
Two woman book a sailing trip after a personal tragedy... but trouble lurks on the loch.

Director: Gary Love

Writer: Gaby Hull

Starring: Finlay MacMillan, Deirdre Mullins, Sheila Hancock, Rebecca Calder, Paul Brannigan, Marcia Rose, Harmony Rose Bremner, Elaine M. Ellis

Year: 2017

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2017

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