Streaming Releases: When Darkness Falls (2022) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Shepka Productions
After writing, directing and prominently starring in the microbudget heist acitoner Holiday Monday, Scottish indie filmmaker Nathan Shepka took on a smaller but no less important role with his next film, the Scottish kidnapping/murder road thriller When Darkness Falls.  Spoken of the same breath as Killbillies depicting two young American tourists besieged by ruthless locals with mercurial violent intentions, this equally low budget drone-photography heavy chiller is a taut little number that manages to upend expectations while showing off more scenic beauty than most other English language thrillers.  Think of it as the antithetical answer to the more recently released Scottish romcom Brian and Charles, treading obviously similar locations while spattering blood on the grounds along the way..

High-school best friends Andrea (Emma O’Hara) and Jess (Michaela Longden) have fallen out of touch until Andrea contacts Jess about going along on a hiking trip through the Scottish-highlands in search of a particular place Andrea promises will be worth the trouble.  Ala An American Werewolf in London, the two hike along the open hills before happening upon a tucked in little pub where they fend off two horny locals, Tom (Craig McEwan) and Nate (Nathan Shepka) Andrea seems tickled pink to be getting unwanted attention from.  An annoyed Jess storms out but after she is followed by Tom who is shooed away by ex-cop Beck (Ben Brinicombe), she decides to head back to retrieve her friend only to find her missing.  Her search for Andrea collides her with Nate who doesn’t seem to know where her friend is either before they happen upon the body of another missing girl neither has seen before.

Treading similar ground as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or more recently Wolf Creek depicting fish-out-of-water tourists who are near eaten alive by the elements and denizens living therein, When Darkness Falls is a surprisingly solid panoramic widescreen chase and escape thriller of sorts including two of the more frightening chases on foot in recent cinematic memory.  Co-written by Tom Jolliffe and shot beautifully by Andy Crane who intercuts freely between fades of drone shots looking at the two lone characters careening the green mountainous highlands, the film is an ensemble chamber piece thriller that frequently jumps off of the top of a cliff visually.
Most of the heavy lifting in the piece is done by Michaela Longden who takes more than a few punches to the face, pistol-whipping, and being chased on foot by dangerous assailants though at times the film shifts gears with our alliances until we’re not completely sure who to root for.  At different points characters who are the villains become the heroes and then back again, keeping viewers on their toes about who they should rally behind.  Writer-director Nathan Shepka also gets into a few fistfights in the movie which are fun to watch including a pitchfork death that’s surprisingly grisly for being an open-terrain woodsy thriller.  Mostly though the film’s real star is the location, these enormous mountains reaching as far as the 2.35:1 camera can see with tiny humans trying to kill each other running around in it. 

Though a bit rough around the edges in some spots including some sound foley effects that could use a touch up, When Darkness Falls otherwise gets the job done in delivering a tense survival thriller set in an open playing field where there’s nowhere to run but in every direction.  That it keeps you guessing on who to ally with enhances its entertainment value, creating a platform where anything can happen and there’s really no place you can turn to.  Seeing these kinds of low budget horror movies coming out of Scotland is really exciting and proof positive you can transform any overwhelmingly beautiful terrain into a setting for some scary affairs to play themselves out.  All in all, a good second Scottish effort from an interesting newcomer.

--Andrew Kotwicki