A mild-mannered Japanese artist (Junichi Kajioka) visits the picturesque Scottish Highlands to paint but soon lands himself in extreme peril when he is targeted by a callous assailant baying for his blood. Will the Artist make it out alive? Or will he meet an unfortunate fate?
Dark Highlands, directed by Mark Stirton (One Day Removals) is a slow-burning, suspenseful ordeal horror which implements some interesting visual storytelling techniques to get the narrative across.
Opening with a highly disturbing and brutal scene, Stirton sets up a grim tone taking on a different approach compared to most big studio genre films when it comes to presenting the core narrative. The film contains little to no dialogue and is told through emotions, sounds and visuals, offering up a sensory viewing experience.
Taking on this format has its pros and cons. On one hand it’s a testament to the filmmaker for utilizing his resources and undertaking the challenge of creating a feature with limited character dialogue. On the other hand, it doesn’t allow the audience to truly get to know the character well. He isn’t even given a name and is just known as “the artist”. All we know is he is a tourist who has ventured out to experience the breath-taking scenery of the Scottish Highlands and has landed himself in a highly dangerous situation. This unfortunately weakens the story as the plot isn’t original material and is a standard horror scenario of killer stalks victim.
The lead character is inoffensive and pleasantly written therefore some empathy can be mustered up for him, it just required some further depth so we could truly feel sorry for his plight. He doesn’t deserve anything that happens to him, but we don’t really know him either. With that said, Junichi Kajioka gives a naturalistic performance as the tourist in unfamiliar territory, struggling with the language barrier and finding himself in unimaginable terror.
Dark Highlands is a strong piece of filmmaking on a technical level, the cinematography by Michael Grant Clark really shows off the beauty of the location with sweeping aerial shots and beautifully framed compositions. The editing is incredibly polished with inventive transitions between scenes, and the film flows seamlessly. Its undoubtably a highly professional piece of work and Stirton opts for a slasher movie format combined with an art-house style which is an interesting approach.
The location itself is the film’s most stunning feature, showcasing the vast wilderness, and the sense of getting lost. Setting the film in broad daylight heightens the tension of the situation as there’s always the notion that someone might be around to help the protagonist but at the same time, he is miles away from civilisation and only has himself to rely on.
The film’s antagonist, known as The Gamekeeper (Steve Campbell) brings an unnerving presence to the table knowing that he is lurking and could strike any given moment. However, he is fairly generic when it comes to horror movie killers and doesn’t possess any memorable qualities.
Dark Highlands is an experimental, survivalist horror that serves up some interesting ideas and boldly sets itself apart in style from many slasher type films of its kind. Its wholeheartedly worth a watch, especially if you’re looking for something a little different from your average slasher.