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  Last Great Wilderness, The Take The High Road
Year: 2002
Director: David MacKenzie
Stars: Alastair MacKenzie, Jonny Philips, David Hayman, Ewan Stewart, Victoria Smurfit, Louise Irwin, Ford Kiernan, Jane Stenson, John Comerford, Sheila Donald
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Charlie (Alastair MacKenzie) has been left by his wife for another man, who just happens to be a successful rock star whose hit record about the relationship has become the bane of Charlie's life. He can't take any more, and sets off to Scotland, to the Isle of Skye where the rock star resides in his mansion, so he can burn it down as revenge. On the way, he stops at a motorway cafe and is approached by Vincente (Jonny Philips) who claims to be Spanish and wanting a lift to Scotland to catch a plane out of the country, so off they go, Charlie little knowing of the violence that awaits him...

This atmospheric, low budget tale was scripted by the director, David MacKenzie, Michael Tait, and actor Alastair MacKenzie. When it was released, viewers were comparing it to The Wicker Man because of its remote Scottish location and the introduction into the film of a mysterious cult living in isolation in the bleak landscape, who Charlie and Vincente stumble across when their car runs out of petrol. Indeed, all the way through the story your suspicions are raised by the apparently unsavoury inhabitants of the group's guest house, leading you to expect the worst by the end. But you'll be surprised.

The cult are led by a benevolently menacing guru (a softly-spoken David Hayman), and include amongst their number an aggressively frigid young mother (Victoria Smurfit), a predatory sex addict and a middle aged man with self-confessed "paedophilic urges" - Charlie uncomfortably wonders whether everyone there suffers some distasteful mental disorder (cue "stalker" gag). Add to that a Sixth Sense-style ghost of a young woman that only Vincente can see wandering about, and the stage is set for trouble, especially as Charlie and Vincente are none too stable themselves.

Vincente claims to be a gigolo who has become the target of violence by one of his client's husbands, and when he arrives at the airstrip to catch his flight, he is chased by two thugs - Charlie helps him escape. Whether he is a gigolo or not we never find out, as his Spanish accent comes and goes and he, like everyone else in the film, could be hiding something. The washed out, shot-on-video photography makes Scotland look chilly and uninviting, and the two main characters are convincingly fish out of water in the gloomy countryside.

The action starts to ramble by the halfway mark, and the off kilter aspects, like the dialogue ("Will you be wanting two bedrooms or are you homosexuals?") or the untrustworthy behaviour by the locals (why are they taking photographs of the sleeping guests?) don't quite hide the clich├ęs, such as the "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave" aspect of the guest house.

For most of the film, the outlook held is that you're justified in assuming the worst about people, and events approach the bloody climax with sinister inevitability. But then, right at the close, a different view emerges, one that says you're justified in putting people out of their misery, not only by finishing their lives, but by simply cheering them up, making them feel welcome and at peace. Where did that sweet-natured ending come from? I don't know, but it's certainly original in light of what's gone before, and marks The Last Great Wilderness out as a curio worth ninety minutes of your time. Music by The Pastels.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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David MacKenzie  (1967 - )

British writer-director of gritty subject matter who graduated from short films to features with The Last Great Wilderness. He followed this with an acclaimed adaptation of Alexander Trocchi's cult novel Young Adam, and dark, romantic thriller Asylum. Next were Scottish-set dramas Hallam Foe and the science fictional Perfect Sense, then much-acclaimed prison drama Starred Up and modern Western Hell or High Water. He is the brother of actor Alastair MacKenzie.

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