Juxtaposes whimsy and horror

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Guy walks into a motorway service station, accosts a stranger surveying a Scottish road map and throws a handful of notes on the table to take him along for the ride. Cut to gents' toilets. Stranger throws the notes back in the guy's face (guy is cleaning his arse in the sink at this point). Family man walks in, sums up the scene, gets the wrong idea. Punches fly outside in the car park.

It could almost be a short film in itself, but it’s not: it‘s the opening gambit from award-winning Scottish short filmmaker David Mackenzie to this, his debut feature. From the humour and violence of their first encounter (a contradictory tone maintained throughout the course of the film), Mackenzie wastes no time in establishing the motivation of his two protagonists. Charlie (Alastair Mackenzie) is out for revenge and Vincente (Jonny Phillips) is on the run from it. Finding themselves stranded in the heart of the Highlands, the pair stumble upon a strange old house - a retreat, it turns out, for people in recovery from life’s harsh realities. Losing sight of their respective missions, Charlie and Wncente discover that the ‘Iast great wilderness‘ is not the Scottish countryside but the existential condition of the human soul.

Filmed in digital format, Mackenzie’s somewhat erratic film is clearly influenced by the Dogme aesthetic in its use of natural lighting and hand-held camera techniques. The claustrophobic situation of having disparate characters united under one roof is unmistakably reminiscent of Thomas Vinterberg's Festen and like that film, it juxtaposes whimsy and horror with a view to redemption. Boasting strong ideas and a powerful ensemble cast, the film lacks pace, however, and never quite regains the vitality of the opening sequence. (Catherine Bromley

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