Dartmoor Killing

There’s something about British horror and psychological thrillers that seems a cut above the usual Hollywood fare. One aspect of that observation is that Brits generally seem to like a bit of local atmosphere and context, and enjoy the scene setting almost as much as the rest of the plot put together. That’s why you won’t find much ‘cutting to the chase’ in British masterpieces such as Straw Dogs (1971) and The Wicker Man (1973). And no Hammer Horror film was ever complete without loads of weather and scenery, was it?

OK, I admit that Straw Dogs was directed by American Sam Peckinpah – but it was based on a perfectly good British novel set in the West Country and, well, you know what I mean: we love our haunted landscapes, remote villages, pagan traditions and murderous yokels – and anything else that straddles the ley lines of our countryside’s ancient, superstitious past.

And so to the Beehive last Friday with a mini-coven of friends and family to see Dartmoor Killing (2015), a new film by director Peter Nicholson and Hummingbird Films which recently won ‘Best Screenplay’ at the Tulsa International Film Festival. We were nicely revved up, too, what with the enticing trailer promising ‘Two Women. Three secrets. One Killer’ together with ‘Betrayal’ and ‘A Terrifying Past’ all set against our favourite horror backdrop (Dartmoor, of course) and choreographed to suitably dark and romantically charged music.

Did it live up to its promise? Welllll….kinda…yeah…

No question, it is beautifully shot with wonderful atmospheric vistas of all kinds of weathers and Dartmoor settings – both day and night. ‘Masterful’ as a word doesn’t really approach the high level of cinematography employed here, and it choreographs beautifully with the dark and moody music. Also, the acting is great. Callum Blue, in particular, makes a seriously convincing handsome psychopath in ‘Chris’, and the girls (Rebecca Knight and Gemma-Leah Devereux) are very effective as the ‘outwardly confident’ Susan and ‘shy and fragile’ Becky. So far, so good.

So now we come to the screenplay; and it’s here that I beg to differ with the judges over at the International Film Festival in Tulsa. Sigh. Over the years I’ve come to accept that irrational behaviour is a credible plot device in horror films that just wouldn’t be forgiven in, say, a war film – or even during the height of tomfoolery in a James Bond extravaganza. And Dartmoor Killing, unfortunately, makes no exception to this convention. I’m not going to add any spoilers here, ….. but, girls: Just say no, OK? As a rule of thumb, it’ll keep you safe. For instance: if your best friend and flatmate one day blithely suggests taking a pre-nuptial weekend break to a bleak and spooky remote spot where you were once found wounded and traumatised as an amnesiac teenager, ….maybe think about applying that rule?

Can we forgive this? Well, yes. For the same reasons that we love even more unbelievable cult nonsense like The Reptile (1966) and all the others. i.e It’s all about the moors….

As a bonus the Beehive treated us to a post-screening Q&A session with director Peter Nicholson and actor Lewis Peek who plays the younger ‘Chris’, at which important questions were keenly asked by members of the mini-coven. Thus I now know that young Lewis did indeed feel ‘a bit embarrassed’ at the idea of his family seeing him perform in the nude, and that Becky’s top in another scene came from Jigsaw.

Levity aside, it was great to have an added insight into the genesis and production of the film.

And quite simply: if you love Dartmoor, you won’t fail to enjoy the canvass of Dartmoor Killing even if you don’t quite buy the subject.

Review by Neil Madden