MAY 15, 2010
Two anonymous (or one impatient) HMAD readers both suggested Wilderness a while ago, so I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to it. It’s got a couple of Neil Marshall cronies (Sean Pertwee and Alex Reid), and it sounded like a survival horror version of White Water Summer (one of my favorite 80s movies), in that it’s about a bunch of punk kids going off to the woods to learn how to work together and read maps and such, but they end up getting picked off by a sniper (and his loyal pack of man-eating dogs).
And for the most part, I dug it. It’s fast paced, has some great (and surprising) deaths, and it’s well shot by director Michael J. Bassett and DP Peter Robertson. But there are a couple of blunders that kept me from loving it, and I think another pass or two with the script might have resulted in one of that year’s best genre films.
For starters, the female characters need to go. Reid is tough and has some nice repartee with Pertwee, but she’s not around much so if she’s there or not it wouldn’t matter much. The two teen girls she has with her, however, are a dreadful invention. Not only do they break up the “boy’s club” appeal (come on, how many all male horror movies do you see?), but they also provide generic plot contrivances and waste screen-time that should have been used to develop the boys a bit more and solidify how they interact with each other. Much of the psychological backdrop (guys who essentially hate each other having to work together to survive) is lost in favor of pointless “bros before hos” arguments and a truly idiotic attempted rape scene.
The overcrowding also robs us of some stronger death scenes. Two characters are more or less killed off-screen as we race along through the story, and others never seem to get any sort of reaction from the rest of the folks. In fact, the editing as a whole is a bit choppy; there’s a scene where one character thought dead suddenly resurfaces, and it comes out of nowhere, AND the other characters don’t even seem to react to it. It’s not even clear how they see her; they just suddenly appear at her side. There are a couple other moments like that, and I can’t help but wonder if fewer characters would allow for more coherent character motivations and stronger setpieces.
And the biggest asshole of the group doesn’t get a really memorable death scene, which I think is sort of a ripoff for the audience who has been spending the past hour and a half hating him so much. He pees on one of the weaker kids, constantly uses the others as shields or bait, murders a hermit for no reason... I hated this fucker more than I’ve hated any movie character in the past 5 years. But ultimately he just gets forced to cut himself (not deep enough to kill or even take him out of commission) and then he just gets shot. Come on! I want this guy’s jugular torn out by the dogs, his manhood ripped in half, maybe partially set on fire.... but he actually gets off easier than most of the other, more likable characters. Why save him for the end if you’re not going to give us a big crowd pleasing death?
I think The Descent connection was distracting me too. Part of what I loved about that movie was how scary it was even without the monsters. I think Wilderness would have benefited from putting the guys in some actual life-threatening situations - climbing a cliff face, trying to stay underwater... that sort of stuff (perhaps with the sniper guy nearby just to make things even more suspenseful). But it’s all just running and dodging.
It still works are a pure adrenaline rush though. I can’t think of a single moment where it got too slow or boring (even before the killer shows up), and the gory bits were well done, not to mention surprising. One guy gets half his face torn off by the dogs - a moment made even more surprising due to the fact that I wasn’t expecting him to die anytime soon. Plus, I am afraid of snipers in real life, and even though the dogs and bear traps get most of the kills, the threat of being sniped was always there, which kept me a bit tense. And since they establish early on that they’re not interested in going in the predictable “order” for horror movie victims, it gives the film a “no one is safe” feel for a while.
Since I watched on Netflix I have no extras. I wondered if there were some deleted scenes that helped smooth out some of the rough editing, or a commentary explaining that the producers demanded a few girls in the cast or if it was always in the plans, but it seems the only extra on the DVD was a brief making of. Bummer. The movie is still a good thrill, but if you want a little more meat on your bones, I’d stick with Descent, or maybe even Severance for a more humorous (but still gory/scary) take on a similar setup.
What say you?