Seven criminals from the Moorgate Young Offenders’ Institution are sent to an island for a week of survival training after one of their fellow inmates’ suicide. “Survival” soon turns out to be a more accurate term than their guardians had hoped for, as the young men become the target of a mysterious hunter hidden in the bushes…
Given this premise and British director Michael J. Bassett’s track record—his 2002 debut feature DEATHWATCH was a gloomy, uncompromising, slightly supernatural reconstruction of the horrors of the WWI trenches—his sophomore effort WILDERNESS (no relation to the same-titled Brit werewolf movie released by Fango Video) promises to be decidedly bleaker and more realistic than any recent Hollywood horror production. “I was sent [Dario Poloni’s] script while I was writing something else for [Ecosse Films],” Bassett tells Fango. “I thought it was a good idea but not a great script; it was a slasher movie, and I thought I could do something else with it. My producers said, ‘Fine, do your rewrite,’ which I did. They were great guys, but they’d never made a horror movie; I was putting in all these gory sequences and making all the characters more aggressive and less easy to like, and they were really nervous.”
One of the movie’s most surprising qualities is indeed that its lead characters are rather unsympathetic. “You have to have some sense of honesty to the characters you’re creating,” Bassett says. “I’ve been to young offenders’ institutes for research purposes, and they’re not nice people at all! You cannot like them, but hopefully by the end of the movie, I’ve put them in a circumstance where you sort of half hope they’re going to get out of it by being who they are.” Also, there’s very little indication of what any of them has done wrong. “There’s one line of dialogue where somebody says they’ve got a drug dealer and a sex offender and a murderer, but I’ll never tell you who’s who. It’s up to the audience to figure it out.”
Filmed in 30 days on Northern Island with a cast headed by Sean (DOG SOLDIERS) Pertwee, Toby Kebbell and Alex (THE DESCENT) Reid, WILDERNESS, which premiered last month at the 24th Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film, proved a trying movie to shoot. “It was forests and rivers and mountains, climbing and running and kicking, so we were tired all day,” Bassett recalls. “But with seven young actors, there was a lot of energy on the set. And it was all we were doing for 30 days; there was nothing else in our lives. I got bitten by the dogs; I jumped in the river; I climbed trees… I can keep my energy going for that amount of time, and then when I go back home I just collapse.” This intense shoot reminded Bassett of his experience on DEATHWATCH, which was entirely lensed in mud and rain on one location. “I like physical filmmaking; I don’t think I could ever make a movie in a studio. I’d get bored, really!” WILDERNESS has yet to achieve U.S. distribution, but you can find more info and lots of photos at Bassett’s website.