End of the Road
by Brody Rossiter
A rare offering of horror foraged from Scotland’s bleak cinematic landscape, The Last Great Wilderness (2002) weaves its slow-burning narrative between frostbitten peaks and deep into heather-filled valleys before housing its sense of eerie unease inside a bizarre collective of characters.
Following an impromptu meeting in a motorway service station, Charlie and Vincent find themselves travelling north toward Scotland’s Isle of Skye. Charlie, a jilted husband with desires to burn down the house of his wife’s lover, and Vincent, a low-end gigolo evading a scorned husband’s vengeful desires to castrate him, are thrown into a chaotic series of events that lead them deep into the inhospitable yet wildly beautiful highlands.
Stranded without petrol, shelter or a plan of what to do next, the pair head for the nearest sign of life: a stately guest house stripped of its former glory by the trauma of recent tragedy. Inhabited by an eccentric group of individuals suffering from a range of ailments considered deviant by their former communities, the sanctuary of the impressive home soon begins to twist into a bewildering prison that refuses to release Charlie and Vincent.
Director David Mackenzie recently earned widespread acclaim for his Jack O’Connell fronted prison drama, Starred Up. The Last Great Wilderness exhibits the first steps of a filmmaker clearly unafraid to confront adult themes and issues of mental illness – a common theme throughout his impressive but overlooked body of work.
Swerving between suspicious exchanges amongst the troubled residents, hallucinogenic midnight hauntings and distressing bouts of violence – one of which proves unexpectedly disturbing and will not be easily erased from memory – the film clearly draws comparisons to classic horror pictures such as An American Werewolf in London, The Wicker Man and Straw Dogs – however faint or distinct those influences may prove. Nevertheless, Mackenzie also introduces an undertow of tenderness to his tale to beguile the viewer, luring them into a false sense of security, while also offering much-needed respite from the many uncertainties that gradually encroach upon Charlie and Vincent’s retreat.