Starring – David Hayman, Samuel Feeney, Gavin Mitchell, Elizabeth Brown.
After a series of abductions of young women who are then letter found to be murdered in grizzly ways, investigative journalist Hamish MacDonald (Samuel Feeney) finds himself delving into Scotland’s dark history in order to solve the case. The legendary, cannibalistic and incestuous Bean Clan appear to still have one last living descendant.
Aside from exploring a particularly nasty and little known true aspect of Scottish history, the filmmakers of ‘Sawney’ have arguably made the most graphic public information video concerning ‘Why you should never get into unlicensed taxis’. The killers’ mode of transport is a London taxi with blacked-out windows and modifications that make it almost like a hearse, instantly winning the film points for its daft originality.
Remarkably for its small budget, the film’s cinematography in how it captures the wild and vast Scottish highlands is absolutely breathtaking. Admittedly I’m a complete sucker for Scotland and its picturesque qualities (especially when covered in snow) but this still only gets a film so far. ‘A Lonely Place to Die’ was also set in rural Scotland and just thinking about that festering pile of carrion is enough to my blood pressure rise.
None of the nonsensical self-aggrandising ‘terror’ here though, ‘Sawney’ is a complete splatter-fest full of splattering blood and extremely liberal amounts of gore thrown about with total reckless abandon. Whilst he is not the lead, David Hayman as Sawney is clearly having the time of his life in the role as the inbred group’s leader and ‘head chef’. He has a profoundly bizarre religious basis for all his despicable acts, is surprisingly eloquent and you can’t help but love him in a ‘Freddy Krueger’ type of way, with his over the top maniacal cackling and let me tell you ‘How to Cook with Sawney’ is genuinely a program I would watch. The funniest line of the film by far is when he orders his ‘sons’ to ‘Clean this place up!’ with regards to their blood-splattered layer, dour Scottish humour at its finest!
As a result of Sawney’s overtly cartoonish nature, Samuel Feeney’s good guy investigative journalist Hamish runs the risk of being grossly over-shadowed. It’s a great indication of Feeney’s acting talent that he’s able to pull off the rugged everyman character with great ease but not make him a boring cardboard cut-out. This is a man who does proper research in libraries, scans headlines using an old newspaper machine and has a map with pins and connecting pieces of string. It has been far too long since we’ve seen a ‘proper’ film journalist like Hamish, a man who refuse to just use Google to get the answer…admittedly he does use it at one point in the film but only as a last resort and not with a super techno-phone.
The complete tonal shifts from guts and gore to urban crime drama are certain to both alienate people and cause tone-whiplash. Another jarringly out of place element comes in the form of Sawney’s hooded, parkour-loving ‘sons’. Their make-up looks like something the special effects team from ‘Buffy’ threw out and the film indulges far too much in devoting lengthy sections of showing them free running, which looks both unimpressive and adds nothing to the story. The film’s only wasted opportunity comes in the form of a really freaky but all to brief dream sequence. It comes completely from out of nowhere and is brilliantly chill-inducing, stylistically it is completely out place from the rest of the film but is nevertheless a fantastic moment.
The film has a great breezy pace and a fantastic build up to an ending with a genuinely surprising twist and then another shock when it essentially turns into monster film. Few films embrace their silliness and believe me, ‘Sawney’ gets more and more enjoyably silly with every minute that passes. It is a great shame that this crescendo of madness is drastically undermined by a pathetic and unnecessary ‘stinger’ ending. The film has a clear and quite a downer of an ending, the ‘stinger’ is dull, adds absolutely nothing and feels horrifically tacked-on, but then aren’t they all?
Despite this damp squib of an ending, ‘Sawney’ is still an entertainingly bloody romp that seldom pauses for breath or the notion of dignity. You do not have to look too hard to find the weaker elements, but this film was just made to be enjoyed, with a large group of people and I’m sure will go down a storm at Grimm Up North!
About Oliver Ryder
Ever since he saw 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' at the tender age of five, Oli was dragged into the wonderfully disturbing world of horror and has never looked back. He enjoys all things macabre, dark comedy, penguins and likes his coffee black just like his metal.