Susan (Rebecca Night) takes best friend Becky (Gemma-Leah Devereux) on a trip to Dartmoor for her hen party. The hiking expedition across the region's gorgeous countryside also provides Susan the opportunity to try and persuade Becky against marrying her boyfriend Tony.
While making their way towards a hill which acts as a local climbing landmark, they encounter handsome Chris (Callum Blue). He befriends the girls and starts to point out local viewpoints. When he highlights the farmhouse on which he lives, Becky feels a little queasy - something deep down within her has stirred, a childhood memory that she can barely comprehend.
When Chris sprains his ankle, he asks the girls to help him down from the moors and onto the road a couple of miles away, where he can flag down a car for assistance. Inevitably, the three of them actually end up at his farm home. "It's idyllic" Susan remarks; Becky, however, has silent reservations. That sense of deja vu returns to her - despite the fact that she, as far as she's aware, has never visited Dartmoor previously.
Over lunch, Chris apologies for not being able to drive the girls to the nearest Bed-and-Breakfast on account of his bad ankle, but compensates by offering them use of his spare bedroom overnight. Both girls fancy their chances with the charming hunk, and therefore accept his offer. Oddly enough, his limp seems to disappear a short while later...
Come nightfall, Susan succumbs to Chris' advances and winds up in his bed - while Becky heeds to the call of a ghostly figure lurking in a nearby quarry. How do Chris and his home fit into Becky's suppressed past, and is it more than chance that has brought her back here?
DARTMOOR KILLING marks the non-factual feature debut of prolific, acclaimed documentarian Peter Nicholson (his past triumphs include TV movies "Pompeii: The Last Day" and "Japan's Tsunami: Caught On Camera").
Nicholson's experience behind a camera is soon evident, the opening scenes benefitting from assured photography, slick editing and a keen sense of ambience. The beautiful scenery is well rendered too, the director and his cinematographer Nick Dance filling their widescreen frame with luscious greens and sun-kissed landscapes. The British do capture their natural resources well, it has to be said, and these opening scenes bring to mind successes like DEAD MAN'S SHOES.
Once the narrative picks up, we learn that Nicholson also has a fair grip on his actors. Performances are above par throughout, including reliable TV veteran David Hayman in an important role later in the film. Of the small cast, the two lead actresses make the greatest impression. Perhaps the only weak link is Blue: he's acceptable, but hardly capable of convincingly mustering the menace he's supposed to elicit.
Sadly, such a handsomely and thoughtfully constructed film - in terms of mood and visuals, at least - DARTMOOR KILLING doesn't really know what to do in terms of dramatics. The screenplay, co-written by Nicholson and Isabelle Grey, never really develops. The characters are never sufficiently fleshed out, and the action never grips. Do we care, ultimately, what old secret binds Becky to Dartmoor? Not really, no. Do the twists make us sit up and remark? Nah. It all peters out in terms of suspense roughly midway through and simply limps along rather aimlessly from that point onwards.
Sarah Class' sparse, piano-led score is proficient enough. But I've grown weary of bleak minimalist music on modern British dramas - they've become a cliche unto themselves.
Also, I'm not entirely convinced Grey or Nicholson knew what type of film they were wanting to make. The suggestions of the supernatural in the early parts of the film are misleading at best; the psychological drama that underpins the latter half is too tepid and unrevealing to register effectively. We're left with a film that feels like it's stuck in a "no man's land" in terms of genre.
SODA Pictures' UK DVD presents DARTMOOR KILLING uncut and in its original 16x9 ratio, preserving the lovely cinemascopic 2.39:1 framing. Colours are warm and true, flesh-tones are natural and images are clearly defined throughout. The luscious landscapes are served particularly well in what is an extremely clean, impressive transfer.
English audio comes in choices of 2.0 or 5.1 mixes: both are reliably effective options.
The disc opens with trailers for THE FACE OF AN ANGEL, KON-TIKI and THE LAST SAINT.
From there, a static main menu page leads us into an animated scene selection option allowing access to the film via 9 chapters (10, if you include the closing credits sequence).
Bonus features are limited. They begin with two trailers - 140-second "15 rated" trailer, and the 138-second "12A rated" trailer (the latter is identical thematically but replaces all clips of blood and bare bottoms with more innocuous fare).
We also get a 4-and-a-half-minute "behind the scenes" photo gallery which is decent enough, offering 54 stills. It could've done with some contextual commentary to accompany it perhaps.
Peter Nicholson's DARTMOOR KILLING looks great and benefits from generally excellent performances. It still manages to be a slow haul and overly long, its screenplay never managing to deliver the drama its rich visuals and fine acting deserve. I was left feeling it would be better suited to a TV screening than a DVD buy but, if you simply cannot wait to live in the hope of catching this on television in the future, it is at least graced with a superb transfer on SODA Pictures' otherwise modest disc.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Soda Pictures|
|see main review|