The end of August will see, once again, London’s Frightfest, a horror film festival put on by Film4. With a variety of films being shown this year, including big-time releases such as Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and the upcoming rom-zom-com, Life after Beth, the news coming from the event should be very interesting. I had the opportunity to sit down and watch some of the horror titles that will be shown at the festival, the first of which being White Settlers, the new film from West Midlands born director Simeon Halligan (Splintered).
We begin the film with an English couple, Ed (Lee Williams) and Sarah (Pollyanna McIntosh), who are making a change in their life, leaving the hustle and bustle of the city to move to the quiet and quaint Scottish countryside, buying a worn-out yet workable house for a good price with plans to renovate it in their own time. They move in and on their first night begin to hear noises, while in bed, coming from downstairs. Their inspections initially find nothing more than an open door but we soon find that Ed and Sarah’s home is being invaded by a number of pig-mask wearing Scottish men. When Ed goes missing, Sarah attempts to escape the assailants and find her husband, but in a strange new place and in the dark hours of night, with a gang of axe wielding antagonists on her tail, it isn’t quite so easy.
Pollyanna McIntosh puts forth a top performance here. No stranger to horror and having done one heck of a job in Lucky McKee’s 2011 feral horror “The Woman”, McIntosh, as an English woman who must find inner strength to overcome a spur of the moment attack on her world, is on top form here. I love the energy she always seems to put in to her work, and this film shows off her vast abilities. Williams, as Ed, brings a character who is relatable and not the “tough as nails” protector that we often see people become in these types of films, which is both refreshing and inventive, offering scenes in which Sarah takes the lead, protecting Ed from the attempted onslaught of knives and other sharp pointy things.
A home invasion film where the villains wear animal masks is nothing particularly new, yet it works here better than I feel it has in the past, with reasoning behind why the enemies are donning such headwear. There have been films in the past where the masks were merely used as a way to bring some discomfort and creepiness to the proceedings, but it isn’t the case with White Settlers. The scenes of silhouettes and shadows of these characters with the faces of pigs provide plenty of horrific and creepy imagery and atmosphere. The “bad guys” of the film are what you would expect them to be. Faceless, anonymous and determined. There are no layers to them, no character development going on, they’re just the dark side of the story that out leads are battling against. With elements of small-town-conspiracy, historical bitterness, racism and class division, the metaphors that exist beneath the exterior of the film are easy to see, offering an interesting reasoning as to why our central characters are suffering in such a way.
The film looks great, and the simplistic and haunting score helps the tension a lot. Halligan has created a beautiful looking film that takes a genre that is becoming more and more frequently seen and doing something, while not entirely original or unpredictable, enjoyable with it. It isn’t a ground-breaking horror film, and there are moments in which the violence felt relenting and not severe enough. Still, it meshes sinister atmosphere, discomfort and gore together well. The ending was one that I initially wasn’t sure about, but as I let the experience settle into my brain I realised how fitting it was and how much sense it made. A short film, at under 90 minutes, I was never bored by the film and found plenty to like about it.
Think “You’re Next” meets “Straw Dogs” set in the highlands of Scotland. That might come close to giving a bit of an idea what to expect here. Tense, brutal and exhilarating, White Settlers is a home invasion horror that works, and one I would recommend to genre fans.
White Settlers screened at Film4 Frightfest and will screen at the upcoming Grimmfest in Manchester, see the link below for details; http://grimmfest.com/grimmupnorth/
Check out our EXCLUSIVE Interview with director, Simeon Halligan, HERE.