Thank you to Rubicon Films (@RubiconFilmsUK) for asking me to review this movie!
Director: George Popov
Writer(s): George Popov, Jonathan Russell
Cast: Daniel Oldroyd, Suzie Frances Garton, Amy Tyger
Synopsis: A soldier returns home from the war and begins to look for his sister who went missing during the “The Droving” festival.
From the look of the poster, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was actually scared to start it, mainly because of the wolf mask with red beady eyes which gave me a full-on horror impression of this film. You get a sense of what you believe the movie will be, and at times gets there, but it never fully dives into that realm.
One thing the poster does, that the movie does as well, is it doesn’t dig too deep into stuff that would take too long to explain. We understand early on there is a cultish festival that includes rituals and people wearing the masks of animals. The scene where we finally get to see these animals is one that I could not look away from or close my eyes to. It is perfectly paced and crafted to allow such a fear to strike through the screen. However, after this scene, we realize it isn’t about the animals in the mask, but something so much more.
I appreciated the writers and directors being able to tell us there is something bigger at stake, without having to force it to us. There is never an overindulgence of difficult stuff that would make it hard to understand. They tell us what is happening, and then they move on. We were able to get everything through the visuals of the film, which is a testament to a great writer.
The visual aspect of the film is something that stood out to me more than anything. This movie was beautiful to look at. With sweeping landscape shots of mountains and rivers, from the opening scene, we are shown a beautiful landscape. But then there are moments like the one above that is crafted so well in showing us the darkness in the light, and Martin’s full transformation into that darkness. The score helps to really haunt and creep into you in an eerie way. You could tell Martin was always in a bad place, and towards the end of the film, you understand all of the hardships he went through during the war. His sister being killed was the moment that broke him and forced him into a world of hate and pain.
Daniel Oldroyd is able to capture that hurt and that pain in such a nuanced way. We are watching this man go from place to place to find his sister, each one getting harder than the last. His patience is thinning, and he is begging to say and do things that come off as sinister. I don’t think he begins the movie being an evil person, but by the end, there is a need for his sister return that forces him to transform into the darkness he swore he was fighting against. It is a beautifully layered performance and a sinister one as well.
Some of the issues I had were minor ones but did affect the film. I thought there were many moments with overuse of editing that I think messed with the pacing a bit. The minor characters never really were given much to do as well. This is Oldroyd’s show, and he does a fantastic job, but some of the supporting characters just seemed like plot devices to move the story forward. The film also had great use of visual storytelling, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the dialogue was not always at that same level at times.
Final: In a year that is begging for films, a small independent one stands alongside them all. Filled with incredible visuals and eerie suspense, coupled with a haunting score, The Droving is original and fearless throughout. A truly wonderful work that should be seen.
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Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.