The Last Great Wilderness (18)
This peculiar but very effective amalgam of road movie and horror film is set squarely in the wilds of Scotland where two strangers, each on his own personal odyssey, wind up lost amidst an array of oddballs at a remote country retreat.
Charlie (Alastair Mackenzie) is en-route to burn down the home of his wife’s rich lover when he happens across Vicente (Jonny Philips), a gigolo who may or may not be Spanish, but who is certainly earmarked for bloody castration by the goons of a gangster whose wife he has been servicing.
As this odd couple hits the high road together they learn fragments about each other’s lives. Some of it makes sense, some not. What they can never expect is to run out of petrol in the remote Scottish wilderness and wind up at Moor Lodge, an out-of-the-way house for damaged folk whose inhabitants include a sex addict and a paedophile monk.
“What do you do?” asks one of the interlopers. “I’m a stalker,” replies an obviously Scottish gillie. “Makes sense,” says the lad, not grasping the reality of the man standing before him.
The Last Great Wilderness begins as a black comedy, takes a turn into mystery, becomes a thriller and eventually metamorphoses into a deadly horror flick as it slowly becomes apparent that Moor Lodge conceals more than a few dark secrets, especially in the sinister and enigmatic Svengali-like figure of David Hayman as Rory, the strange chieftain at its core.
The film’s strength comes via a number of factors – its strong ensemble (which includes icy blonde Victoria Smurfit), the desolate location, and Mackenzie’s choice of hand-held digital video instead of film, which gives the movie its peaky, washed –out look – but principally in that time-honoured method of placing a cuckoo (or two in this case) in the nest and recording its reaction.
Charlie and Vicente are the cuckoos, and Mackenzie allows their experiences and feeling of powerlessness to wash over the film, just as Edward Woodward’s puritanical copper felt impotent in that great 1970s classic The Wicker Man as he gropes his way to the end of a mystery involving pagans and a missing child.
There are Wicker Man-esque elements scattered throughout The Last Great Wilderness, but this is a decidedly different movie. The feeling of otherworldliness is, however, forever present, both in Hayman’s adroit playing and in the astonished reaction from Philips and Mackenzie, who acts and co-wrote with his brother.
As a road movie, The Last Great Wilderness works perfectly. It is also part buddy-buddy movie, part rural nightmare (think Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, John Boorman’s Deliverance and Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort) and part paranoid descent into a hellish new dimension like Race With the Devil.
There is nothing right about this place and the people in it, and foreboding overshadows Charlie and Vince from the moment they stumble onto the remote house and its inhabitants.
The Last Great Wilderness looks like a first feature. In fact David Mackenzie has six features to his credit including Young Adam, the forthcoming chiller/thriller starring Ewan McGregor. It is this film, however, that will prove to be his calling card.
Bright, sexy, funny for all the right (and wrong) reasons, unsettling and frightening with a shocking Grand Guignol denouement, The Last Great Wilderness is a must-see picture with a narrative that leaves you wanting more.
Star rating: ****