Before we begin, the director Gary Love addresses the audience at the International Premiere of The Dark Mile to inform us that they only completed the film sixteen days ago and I felt a pang of uncertainty run through me. As the film progressed the uncertainty solidified into frustration before turning into emptiness, for although The Dark Mile sails some rocky and dangerous waters it never fully allows us on board or to get close enough to see where we’re going or indeed what is going on.
We meet Louise and Claire, lovers who have decided to take a trip to the dark mile in the Scottish Highlands hiring a boat and visit key landmarks. On their journey they meet the sort of weird backwards folk you’d expect in a film like this and gradually both characters mental state start to unravel. It’s a little bit of Deliverance meets Dead Calm meets The Wicker Man yet not nearly a third as good as any of those unfortunately.
The Dark Mile sets up an interesting premise then seemingly chooses not to provide enough backstory to fully prepare us to tackle it. It fails to get under our skin or connect with us in any meaningful way letting our minds wander astray or race ahead, trying to piece moments together to fill in the blanks. The flashbacks hammer home the hauntings of personal tragedy but are so repetitive that the relentlessness becomes stale. In the final third separate elements begin to congeal and some tension is formed but then the ending, which swells with its own importance, I personally found to be downright dreadful and left me thoroughly unsatisfied.
Continuity is another problem that frequently causes us to feel like we’ve missed something. It’s possible that this is part of the overall vision to increase confusion but it worked to the detriment of both characters leaving us feeling lost and unengaged with their story. This was especially apparent at the shaky start which never quite gave us enough understanding as to why it’s so important for Lou and Claire to go on this voyage. While dialogue is sparse the majority does not aid the story either, sounding hollow, off topic and frustrating. No one says what they mean until it’s too late for both the characters and us as an audience. Rebecca Calder as Louise underplays her character, sounding flat and emotionless throughout and managing to lower the impact of each exchange. Deirdre Mullins’ Claire on the other hand is the life of the film and ends up being the character we relate most with even though she bristles with white privilege assuming the rules with which she plays her life still stand amongst those less fortunate.
Luckily the views captured in the film are often breathtaking, taking our mind off the tedium of the story and offering up beautiful backdrops of Ben Nevis and the surrounding highlands. Although there are some good uses of diagetic sound where characters sing melodies or violins play, the overall score feels too obvious, sounding like a spooky Halloween tape you bought for a party in Woolworths twenty years ago.
At least the characters seem to know what is going on and what they are scared of. I just wish they’d helped us understand too.