Dartmoor Killing is the theatrical debut from Devon’s own, Peter Nicholson – best known for his work at the BBC and Channel 4. Nicholson’s film eschews the usual conventions of British cinema i.e. period settings, Northern working class strife or cockney geezers. Instead, it delivers a contemporary thriller with a twist of suspenseful horror.
Becky (Gemma-Leah Devereux) and Susan (Rebecca Night) are both in their late twenties and prior to Becky’s imminent wedding, Susan treats Becky to a holiday on the moors. However, Susan’s motives for visiting Dartmoor are far from selfless and it turns out she’s motivated by something other than rugged landscapes.
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Arriving on Dartmoor the two ramblers make their way to their idyllic B&B, however, they cross paths with the mysterious, Chris (Callum Blue). When Chris injures his ankle, Becky and Susan offer to help him back to his picturesque but isolated moorland home. At first, this meeting appears to have been by chance but it’s here that the planned city break takes an unexpected and sinister turn, exposing deception and even suppressed memories from a terrifying past – hinted at through ghost-like visions.
Above all else, Dartmoor Killing is indebted to its local setting and fortunately the film’s Director of Photography (DoP), Nick Dance, has done a beautiful job of capturing Dartmoor’s natural beauty. It doesn’t quite match the dream like quality of Spielberg’s Dartmoor in War Horse (Spielberg, 2011) but much of that film was a romanticised vision – perfect for its ‘against all odd’ story.
At one point Chris opines that the moor is a dangerous place but this is never demonstrated through the mise en scène e.g. Dartmoor doesn’t have the harshness of the moorland depicted in Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights (Arnold, 2011) or even the dreariness of the depressing, Blair Witch-wannabe, A Night in the Woods (Parry, 2011). There is danger lurking on the moors, but here it’s mankind, not nature that poses any substantial threat. Dartmoor Killing is more obviously linked to American psychological thrillers of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, films like Dead Calm (Noyce, 1989), Pacific Heights (Schlesinger, 1990) or Cape Fear (Scorsese, 1991).
Nicholson’s debut is an assured one, with good performances from the central cast and it beautifully captures the wonder of Dartmoor, whilst also managing to tell a story that defies the usual slew of British clichés. There are a few minor issues with the script but in spite of this Dartmoor Killing is a gripping thriller, and like the moors themselves, worth experiencing first-hand.