Looking for an island break? Avoid the Scottish island presented in this ambitious film. The vengeful spirit of a young woman, Lorna Elliot (Emma King), has cursed the place. Her malign supernatural powers have afflicted the island for the five years since that 1841 murder. This isle is definitely no place to fetch up if you find yourself wrecked in a storm, as three unfortunate sailors discover. This atmospheric, well-paced thriller shows production company Fizz and Ginger’s versatility and is a brave genre piece after their 2015 debut Two Down.
The film employs familiar horror/ thriller tropes, as well as its period setting. The innocent sailors find themselves in a remote place inhabited by oddballs, and then experience apparitions and unaccountable noises. But the film-makers handle these creatively. References to Persephone and the call of Sirens introduce eternal themes and add intensity. In a rare moment of levity, Jim Bickley (Graham Butler) comments: “There’s only four people here, and they’re all weird.”
So far, so Wicker Man. But the islanders are victims, too, in this folk-horror. Douglas Innis (Game of Thrones‘ Conleth Hill) and Fingal MacLeod (Dickon Tyrell) try to maintain a veil of silence. But the nervous young women, Lanthe Innis (Tori Butler-Hart) and Korrigan MacLeod (Alix Wilton Regan) are key to the island’s secrets. Bickley, Oliver Gosling (Alex Hassell), and Cailean Ferris (Fisayo Akinade) soon realise they are prisoners on the island, with its restless mists and alluring voices. Tom Kane’s score gives strings and woodwind some lovely haunting moments and there are strong visual effects throughout. The island’s gloomy atmosphere shrouds the screen, just as the mossy landscape traps the panicking sailors.
Hill, as the fearful Douglas, also conveys the character’s guilt well; a minor grumble is that he perhaps does not appear to have lived for the last five years on an island short of food. Hassell’s cavernous features naturally suggest horror and desperation, and he handles the central role convincingly. Butler-Hart manages to be both vulnerable and demonic as Lanthe. Butler and Akinade show sensitivity. Butler-Hart’s direction is assured; Pete Wallington’s cinematography dynamic; and William Honeyball’s editing taut. They build the film to a well-handled climax, with heady, powerful montages, great angles and effects, and shocks. Mise-en-scene, costume and production design evoke the period well.
But however strong the film’s successes, not all the details are right. Someone should have spotted the very post-1846 photographs Gosling finds. Performances are mixed. The script is leaden in parts. But, while flawed, The Isle is a valuable, bold film. Its partial success, on a limited budget, suggests much more is to come from Fizz and Ginger.