Director – Simeon Halligan
Starring- Pollyanna McIntosh, Lee Williams, Joanne Mitchell
UK DVD Release – October 20th 2014 from Warwick Films
There is no such thing as bad publicity and probably no such thing as bad timing, and in the case of WHITE SETTLERS, both will probably apply. After getting announced for this year’s FrightFest, the publicity for the film built up around articles from THE GUARDIAN and THE SCOTSMAN, which announced and effectively gave the film the moniker as the Scottish Referendum horror movie, and with a screening at London’s prestigious horror festival, and screenings announced for early September on video on demand and cinema a couple of weeks before the vote, the film nicely played into the publicity, and why not, as publicity for any film nowadays let alone small independent features such as this one, is well deserved and most of all needed. I even suggested to the director, Simeon Halligan, at a Q&A at one of the Manchester Dancehouse screenings, that on the night of the vote, where the film would be screening again, to take a William Castle esque vote, and have the audience have YES and NO cards. Holding up the YES cards for they should die, and NO they should live.
Referendum debates and votes aside, the film itself extends far beyond a one off nationalist vote and rather extends it to a more basic battle between the classes, middle and lower class, the haves and the have not’s. This is most notable in the films earlier scenes, where we establish our two characters Sarah (McIntosh) and Ed (Williams) who are travelling up north to view a house across the Scottish border. On meeting an estate agent, (BEFORE DAWN’S Joanne Mitchell), who explains to them that the house is going for a bargain price, they also find out that the locals are being priced out of the area. Yet Sarah and Ed are pleased with the property and for them it’s a very affordable price.
Once they move into the house and spend the day renovating it, it’s no surprise that a busted fuse box, leading to the lights and the electricity to be out for the rest of the day and night, becomes the cloak of temporary darkness that will escalate the events that unfold. Sarah starts to think she is seeing people outside of the house in the barn areas. Lee annoyed at her constant suspicions, is none the wiser and wants to get on with his sleep, yet it’s not long until both of them start to be terrorised by people wearing pig masks and speaking in a Scottish accent, leading the English couple having to face the menace of the locals, who have plans for them.
Going back to before, the film extends beyond its obvious English versus Scottish element and goes into more of a story of class war, so to speak. Sarah and Ed are affluent enough to move up into the North beyond the border and buy up a property that is cheap for them, but for the locals who are struggling to get by, they can’t afford it, and rather see it as an affront to their national pride see it as more of an insult to the way that the higher or middle classes can move in and buy something that is essentially a house last occupied by a local owner, and just take it for granted as it’s in a lovely area, and looks far more picturesque than London. You could have easily set this film in a rural area in England and had the same effect.
The fact that the film has the Scottish angle is made in part by its title, WHITE SETTLERS, a reference to a term used by a hardcore Scottish nationalist group to lobby the influx of English immigrants and yes the attacking pig mask characters have the national dialect, which would add fuel to the films publicity, but the story is very transitional in a national or even country sense. Overall the direction is a lot more confident than Halligan’s previous film, SPLINTERED (2010), which I felt was enjoyable, but had its flaws. WHITE SETTLERS at least evokes some tense home invasion style moments, and the action moves along briskly to keep you glued and anticipating where Sarah and Ed, will end up at by the end credits. The chemistry between the couple is well handled, and the actors work well with their characters in that they add a likeness to them, that if handled wrongly, and they came across as too arrogant, would not drive the audience to have any sympathy for their plight.
McIntosh is also very good in a physically demanding role, and is starting to show how she is being chosen as a regular actress in horror. Though I feel certain flaws lie in its ending, as even though as much as I appreciated it, as it goes for something different, part of me still wonders how this would feel if it went (and without giving too much away hopefully) down a more typical horrific or darker ending, and how this could be interpreted or reacted upon.
Scottish referendum and yes or no vote’s aside, in the end who can blame the makers for cashing in on the publicity and releasing it at referendum time, as overall WHITE SETTLERS comes off as a solid and well made horror flick.
White Settlers is available from Amazon HERE