thu 18/07/2024

The Moor review - Yorkshire chiller is ambitious but muddled | reviews, news & interviews

The Moor review - Yorkshire chiller is ambitious but muddled

The Moor review - Yorkshire chiller is ambitious but muddled

Despite buzz from the festival circuit, this folk horror film lacks a coherent vision

A distinctly British habitat: David Edward-Robertson in 'The Moor'

A number of films in recent years have added a distinctly local flavour to the folk-horror genre. Mark Jenkin was inspired by Cornish superstitions in the ghostly Enys Men and Kate Dolan’s underrated You Are Not My Mother was ripe with Irish pagan practices and folk tales. 

The Moor, the directorial debut of Yorkshire-native Chris Cronin, continues in this lineage of imagining local folklore through the eyes of genre cinema. Moorland is a distinctly British habitat and has been the swampy canvas we have projected fears onto for millenia. It’s the home of Grendel-like creatures, spectral hounds, Neolithic burial grounds, and peat bogs galore.

The Yorkshire moors, where this film is set, are, of course, east of the Peak District moor haunted by the memories of a more tangible evil, the Brady-Hindley murders. With The Moor, Cronin crams this lore into a single narrative – it's ambitious but fails to pull off the feat.

The film opens on a street corner in Leeds, 1996. Eleven-year-old Claire (Billie Suggett) and eight-year-old Danny (Dexter Sol Ansell) are about to conduct a heist for dip dabs in a corner shop. Claire tells Danny to distract the shopkeeper and to meet her around the corner once the job is done.

It’s a tense opening scene, the shop hums with dread as Claire crams fistfuls of sweets into her bag, the impression of one continuous take holds the suspense well. Claire sneaks out of the shop successfully. But Danny never meets her outside.

Twenty five years later, Claire (Sophie La Porta, pictured above) is approached by Danny’s father, Robin (David Edward-Robertson). The man who abducted and killed Danny, along with other children, has been released from prison and Bill wants help finding his son’s body in hopes of extending the killer's sentence. Claire, a podcaster who shudders when she hears a shop bell, agrees to help, even though it means opening old wounds. Together with park ranger Liz (Vicki Hackett), they begin searching the vast misty moors. When Claire realises that Robin is getting help from psychic Alex (Mark Peachey) the story takes a supernatural turn. 

Moors are an eerie landscape served on a platter for a horror director to exploit, which Cronin does with ease. The way tufts of grass shudder in the breeze recalls the swooshing grass of Kaneto Shindo’s 1964 Onibaba, surely the acme for scary grass. There are hints of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (cinema's most enduring story of missing children) in the ominous rumbling sound that accompanies the moor. The landscape itself is like a Hollywood star in an indie-film who outshines the rest of the cast, but clearly gets along with the director. 

The problem with The Moor is that it lacks coherent vision, both in plot and style. The quest to locate Danny’s body lacks suspense and the finding of Stone Age carvings falls oddly flat. A seance and a full-blow possession sequence seem like parts of another film. Similarly, the use of hand-held footage from Claire’s GoPro à la Blair Witch Project (which The Moor invites comparisons with in faux-documentary segments) feels shoe-horned in. It's as if though Cronin is trying to direct three different films at once and the result is unsatisfying, like when metaphors get muddled. A handful of chilling scenes can’t hide that this is a horror film that can’t decide what it wants its audience to be scared of. 

The landscape is like a Hollywood star in an indie-film who outshines the rest of the cast, but clearly gets along with the director


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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