As has occasionally been the case before, this is a movie I would not have heard of were it not for my researching for this blog. I would say it is a curious contribution to Scottish film though, and one that succeeded in keeping me on the edge of my seat on a dark and rainy night.
With little knowledge of what was to come in the film, the opening scene did not fill me with confidence. It was a trivial detail that had me concerned – the setting is a rural roadside cafe, where principal character Simon (Jonas Armstrong) is sitting; an older waitress appears with a jug of black coffee to offer him a refill and I found myself thinking “what am I about to watch?!”. Was this effectively going to be an American horror movie clumsily transplanted into Scotland without any cultural adaptations? I’m pressing this coffee refill thing a lot I know, but it just seemed like a very out of place American trope – like a corrupt sheriff or a local crazy who “saw things in ‘Nam”.
Thankfully when the story moves retrospectively to Edinburgh – where paranormal researcher Mary (Sophie Ward) is investigating an old house along with Simon and Paul Blair’s Reg – the film becomes a lot more comfortable in its surroundings. That said, the movie is certainly more American than Scottish – or indeed British – in its overall style. Scotland is no stranger to horror films, but I can’t recall any features set in the country that are so deeply dark and supernatural in equal measures – Dog Soldiers, for example, has a lot of black comedy in it; in The Wicker Man the horror is delivered by living, breathing humans. There are touches of many Hollywood horrors in Clive Barker’s Book of Blood, from Poltergeist to A Nightmare On Elm Street, and some exceedingly gory and violent moments.
As mentioned above, Edinburgh is the setting for the majority of the film and with some heavy rain and ominous skies the familiar streets and skyline become an excellent backdrop to the macabre story. The University of Glasgow appears throughout the film as Mary’s place of work, although it is implied that the building is in the capital. When Simon is first introduced to Mary at a lecture he tells her that he has “just transferred from Strathclyde”.