If anything can be learned from modern folk horror, it’s that there is nothing more sinister than other people. That’s something that Martin (Daniel Oldroyd) knows well from his days in the military. Having arrived in the Lake District a year after the death of his sister (Amy Tyger), he’s hungry to find out who is to blame. As he follows the clues from person to person, he also learns about the connections to the titular annual pagan festival.
The premise is quite plainly set in the well-trodden footsteps of The Wicker Man and Dead Man’s Shoes. Yet in its execution, there’s clear influence from Ben Wheatley‘s Kill List in particular, as events begin to spill out of the norm and into the bizarre and uncanny. However, the resulting effect is a neat and chilling psychological horror film that propels the viewer along Martin’s increasingly uneasy journey.
Given the meagre budget and the absolute micro-production nature of the shoot, the look and design is quite spectacular. That’s especially true considering that the majority of the crew only have a handful of film credits at most. Despite this, the sweeping hillsides, old buildings and small towns are captured with an eerie sinister beauty, the landscape often dwarfing the figure of Martin with an oppressive, looming quality. The visual side of the film is complemented by a judiciously sparing use of ambient music, adding to the bleakness of the surroundings.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some threads coming loose at the edges. An early fight sequence is inventively shot against car headlights to obscure some of the choreography, but it can’t quite disguise that this isn’t top drawer stunt work. Meanwhile, several key moments of heavy exposition, shot in close-up, come across as flatly delivered and perfunctory. Given the emotional situation of the scenes they fall within, it snaps the audience out of the moment more than a little.
It’s Oldroyd who has to do the heavy lifting throughout most of the film, and Popov’s direction draws an initially likeable performance, peppered with fleeting glances of dangerous fury. The rest of the cast aren’t given as much to work with and at times can feel underwritten; but on the other hand, this is Martin’s story, and that is largely mirrored through his own narrow focus of attention.
At the end of the day, this is a horror film shot lean and fast, by committed and talented people, who clearly are going to make their presence known on the world stage. Was it made standing on the shoulders of giants? Perhaps, but it stands tall nevertheless.
Available now on Amazon Prime.