Slow-burning period chiller The Isle fizzles despite promising premise
THE ISLE: (15, 96mins) Starring: Alex Hassell, Fisayo Akinade, Graham Butler, Dickon Tyrrell, Tori Butler-Hart, Conleth Hill, Alix Wilton Regan, Joe Bannister. Director: Matthew Butler-Hart
THREE shipwrecked sailors seek refuge on a remote and deceptively tranquil Scottish island in The Isle's mid-19th century-set tale of human frailty and supernatural revenge.
With a plot informed by Greek mythology – specifically Persephone and her cursed companions – this low-budget effort from film-making duo Tori and Matthew Butler-Hart (Matthew directs while his co-writer Tori also stars) sets sail for 'atmospheric period chiller' but sadly can't quite harness enough dramatic wind to reach its destination intact.
Instead, a good cast and decent concept – a creepy uncharted and almost deserted island from which there is apparently no escape – become severely waterlogged after crashing on the rocks of baggy pacing, flashback exposition and ropey visual effects.
Dialogue is oddly 'present day' for a film set in 1849 and some of it is wince-inducing: early on, one character literally declares "there's something really weird going on here" in a deadpan manner that's pretty much guaranteed to generate audience chuckles.
Also, though The Isle isn't really a horror film despite what some of its publicity might suggest – The Witch and The Wicker Man are mentioned in one review featured on the posters – the film-makers do cheerfully deploy some 'classic' horror movie tropes; unfriendly locals hiding sinister secrets, people splitting up when the sane thing would be to stick together and lustful demons luring unwitting men into bed by possessing hapless women.
The Butler-Harts also resort to another, now largely extinct horror trope that might be more problematic for modern viewers. Without giving too much away, take a look at the publicity pics, then guess which character is killed off first. Yeah, that one.
On the plus side, the forests and cliff-bound inlets of the island itself are effectively photographed to create a decent sense of place (you can see why the film-makers thought tiny private island Eilean Shona would make a good movie location) and lead man Alex Hassell has quite a strong screen presence as Gosling, the head sailor attempting to escape.
Ballycastle-born Game of Thrones veteran Conleth Hill is also in good grumpy form as the frosty Innis, one of the islanders who's clearly helping to conceal its dark secrets from the unwitting newcomers, and he has a couple of good scenes with co-star Dickon Tyrell – not including the one where the pair suddenly sit down and explain everything that's been going on despite having spent the entire film trying to withhold it.
Unfortunately, The Isle's intentionally slow-burning plot fizzles long before its fairly obvious conclusion. It might have been more effective as a short sailing rather than a long-haul voyage.
:: There will be a special screening of The Isle at Strand Arts Centre on Sunday May 26 at 8.15pm featuring a post-film Q&A with Matthew Butler-Hart, Tori Butler-Hart, Alex Hassell and Conleth Hill. Tickets £7 via Strandartscentre.com