Dark Nature (2009), the directorial feature debut from BAFTA-winning writer Marc de Launay, promises much but ultimately fails to deliver on its lofty ambitions. This Scottish slash fest – starring a cast of virtual unknowns including Len McCaffer, Imogen Toner and Vanya Eadie – plays out like a heavily diluted episode of Midsomer Murders. However, when you consider that the said television show has more life in a typical two-hour episode than this flawed attempt at a people-in-peril chiller manages in its slight 76 minutes, you know that you’re in for trouble before the opening credits have even finished rolling.
Jane (Eadie) and her new husband Alex (McCaffer) take her children Chloe (Toner) and Sean (Callum Warren-Brooker) to stay at her mother’s rambling house on an isolated stretch of coastline in the Scottish Highlands. Expecting to be greeted by her mother upon their arrival, Jane and her family soon realise all is not right at the outwardly rural idyll, and it’s not long before they find themselves fighting for their lives against a psychotic and particularly resourceful foe.
The main problem here is that Dark Nature has the ingredients for, if not an original, at least a reasonably creepy edge-your-seat thriller, but wastes them in a limp and windswept prowler-on-the-loose schlocker. Touting it as a horror film is something of a misnomer, as there is very little horrific on display save a few mundane murders. The dramatic abilities of the aforementioned cast are generally as weak as the overall film. Though Toner, one grudgingly admits, gives the only performance of any real strength as the moody and petulant teenager Chloe, her character is so stereotypical of the way this age group is frequently portrayed that any sharpness there may have been is diluted by irritating familiarity.
As for the rest of the motley misfits gathered at the isolated shoreside estate – suffice to say its as much a relief for the viewer as the characters themselves when they are eventually put out of their misery. The film’s one saving grace is its stunning setting. Filmed on location in Dumfries and Galloway, the constantly changing coastal weather and environment at times seems the only part of the film which displays any animation. However, an episode of BBC Springwatch isn’t really what you’re paying to see.
If De Launay’s Dark Nature highlights nothing else, it is the fact that many modern filmmakers labour under the misconception that if you litter the proceedings with enough run-of-the-mill shocks and lashings of Kensington gore you have a horror film. The sooner they realise that horror audiences are as discerning as those of any other film genre, the sooner they might produce something which is genuinely scary.