Back in 2006 writer/director Mark Stirton made some waves with his first feature, THE PLANET, a grim and economically shot tale of mercenaries stranded on a uniquely hostile world. He followed it up with the dark comedy ONE DAY REMOVALS and then vanished. Now he’s returned with DARK HIGHLANDS, a cat and mouse thriller set in the Scottish Highlands.
DARK HIGHLANDS opens with a rather ugly suicide and apparent re-animation followed by a bit of homicide before settling into the main plot. And settle is an apt word as the film slows down quite a bit as we meet our protagonist, an unnamed artist (Junichi Kajioka) and get him out into the wilderness. Once he crosses paths with The Gamekeeper (Steve Campbell) things pick up quickly though.
Armed with multiple guns, a drone and an unseen dog the masked and goggled Gamekeeper looks like a more sinister version of STAR WARS Tusken Raider. It’s also obvious he could kill his prey any time he chooses, but he doesn’t. He’s pushing him towards something, but for most of the film, there’s no clue what his endgame is. Even after the credits roll it’s not that clear either. There is a bit of voice-over at the beginning by Brian Cox (MANHUNTER, THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE). It doesn’t explain anything either, but it does give the film some name value.
However, for most of its running time DARK HIGHLANDS is a taunt and effective thriller. There’s almost no dialogue and everything is told through actions and reactions between the hunter and his prey. There are the occasional hikers unlucky enough to wander into the line of fire, but they’re only around long enough to pump up the body count.
Beautifully shot and full of tense sequences, DARK HIGHLANDS is an acceptable watch. It could have been a much better film though. So much is left unexplained, from the killer’s origins on up the plot line. Is he something supernatural or did we witness a messy but somehow unsuccessful suicide attempt? Why does he do what he does beyond simply killing? If you can get past these details you’ll probably enjoy the film more than I did.
DARK HIGHLANDS is available on DVD and VOD from Gravitas Ventures.