Part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival
There are plenty of jokes about the rough treatment that Londoners receive at the hands of Scottish hillbillies when they try to enjoy some R & R up in the rugged Highlands. With his first feature-length film, Gary Love tries to transplant that premise into the genre of a tense psychological thriller, with varying degrees of success.
Lesbian couple Claire (Deirdre Mullins) and Louise (Rebecca Calder) decide to take a week’s vacation onboard a small boat on the lochs of northern Scotland. The former is a bolshy workaholic who can’t stand five minutes without a Wi-Fi connection, while the latter is a shier, more fragile human being who appears to be wrestling with hidden demons inside… but before long, demons begin to materialise outside as well, as the pair are stalked by an ominous black barge and the eerie, eccentric individuals onboard it.
Stemming from the rash decision to rub their forward-thinking liberalism in the face of the apparently backwards locals, the girls soon pay a high price for their bravado. As the barge continues to shadow their every move and pagan symbols plague their route, they are simultaneously harassed by an old flame of Claire’s whose messages quickly spiral into lewd aggression. Will the pair escape with their lives and their relationship intact?
Though the ingredients in this thriller are all there, something has gone slightly wrong with the recipe. The depiction of the Highlanders is unconvincingly one dimensional, and while it’s the girls who are feeling intimidated by intolerance, their own selfishness and stupidity makes them unsympathetic characters in their plight. Love does well to stoke the fires and build tension throughout, but the pay-off is poorly executed and the ending a confused anti-climax.
There’s much to admire about The Dark Mile in terms of acting and cinematography, and it does retain the audience’s interest for the most part, but one too many missteps and a deeply disappointing finale let it down. Rather than root for the couple to escape their persecutors, you’re more likely to wish for a grisly end – or perhaps just any end at all.