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By Jeremy Knox | July 18, 2006

After one of their bunkmates slashes his wrists and kills himself, all the boys that were in the same juvenile detention facility dorm with him are sent to a remote deserted island in order to teach them bonding, togetherness, empathy for their fellow man, and presumably make them miserable by having everyone sleep in dank wet woods. However, before the group hug gets a chance to start they discover that they’re not alone. Someone is out there stalking them and he has other plans, which don’t include campfire songs or marshmallows; and he’s got a big crossbow, four mean dogs trained to kill on sight, and a chip on his shoulder. This does not bode well for our little band of hooligans. They may be tough out on the streets rolling drunks or beating up on the weaker kids like that poor sad sack who committed suicide earlier, but the guy who’s after them is a trained and sadistic killer who isn’t impressed by their swaggering.

Needless to say there will be screaming, blood, near misses and lucky escapes. Some of the boys will die; some will find their inner animal and fight back against their hunter. Others will break under the pressure. I love this kind of movie; its familiar, but in a warm cozy way. Like an old coat that smells of pipe tobacco. Director Michael J. Basset has the perfect attitude towards the material, skip over the boring bits, and get right to the meat of the action. Have fun with the whole production, take yourself seriously, get the best out of your actors, entertain your audience and set up your scenes for maximum effect. What more can you ask?

Toby Kebbell plays Callum, the boy who emerges as the natural leader of the group when they’re in trouble. He’s awesome. I love the way he portrays his character as smart and introspective, but capable of immediate and vicious violence when he feels trapped or threatened. Kebbell also never tries to turn himself into James Dean, a misunderstood hero fighting against authority figures; instead he makes us well aware that Callum is in jail because he can’t always control his anger and that sometimes it possesses him so completely that he’s afraid of it himself.

Stephen Wight as Steve, a cowardly little skinhead who delights in bullying everyone around him, and Luke Neal as his underling Lewis are also quite good. The scene where Lewis finally stops taking Steve’s crap and rebels is very well handled, with Neal looking horribly pained to have to say no to his “boss” yet determined to do it anyway; and Wight does this great thing with his body language, where instead of getting cockier he gets quieter and it’s like there’s an emotional earthquake going on inside the guy.

This is a brutal, unforgiving thriller about bad guys being hunted down by an even worse guy who wants their blood. I like how, when faced with almost certain death, characters will run off and leave other characters to fend for themselves because it’s impossible to save them even if they did stay. This kind of realistic attitude towards dire circumstances makes Wilderness a cut above the rest.

Note: The people at the Fantasia Festival where I saw this include Wilderness as part of what they call “The New Wave of British Horror Cinema” and after seeing The Descent and The Living and The Dead I think they’re on to something. Keep an eye on the land of warm beer and weird food. If this is the beginning of a trend we’re in for some great new movies for the next couple of years.

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