With the current style of Hollywood thrillers that tend more toward flashy camerawork and preposterous chase scenes and situations, one feels appreciative when a film comes along that creates the proper atmosphere to fit its subject matter. Director George Popov’s latest UK-set film is a mood piece with a supernatural motif that is one of the more aesthetically-pleasing thrillers I’ve seen in quite a while.
“The Droving” is an instantly gripping tale of a man, Martin (Daniel Oldroyd) who has returned home from military service to get at the truth regarding his sister, who vanished during a festival known as “The Droving” never to be seen again.
Oldroyd delivers an intense and determined performance as Martin, making him more than just a standard vigilante brother searching for his lost sister. There is something more going on inside him and his arc is slowly revealed through flashbacks, allowing us to see the intricacies of his character and making his search for his sister even more potent.
Martin meets with Tess (a very good Suzie Frances Garton), a friend of his sister’s. Tess gives him the little information she claims to know about the last time she saw her, which was during the rural festival of the title.
This sets Martin on his journey to find his sister and the truth, allowing for some strange situations, such as when Martin is walking through a wooded area and comes across a group of men wrestling. They invite him to join and he does, only to sense something is off with the men. As he leaves, the atmosphere becomes dangerous, the scene standing as portent, maybe? If one comes across something off it is probably best to leave it alone. It also represents Martin’s physical and psychological journey. He is immersing himself in something dangerous and must deal with any consequence that he will encounter.
As he goes deeper into the wilderness, Martin gets a feel for the locals and gains more knowledge about The Droving festival while each new clue leads him to something darker in his world and mind.
The filmmakers are smart in refusing to let us learn any more about the festival than Martin does. There are no MacGuffins or false starts to throw us off the scent, and the screenplay refuses to muddy itself with unnecessary narrative complications. It is the suspense that comes with each discovery that keeps the film gripping.
Written by Popov and Jonathan Russell, “The Droving” tips its hat to Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult classic “The Wicker Man” but stays clear of full homage such a last year’s wonderful “Midsommar.” We get only small hints and flashes of the festival in full swing. The festival itself is the “Harry Lime” of this story. In Carol Reed’s Noir classic “The Third Man,” Lime is the character that is always spoken of but never seen, until towards the end. Yet the sinister aura of the character permeates the film through talk of his legend. The same can be said of the title’s festival. We rarely see it and are never fully immersed in it, but we feel its presence in every step Martin takes and every clue he uncovers.
“The Droving” is not a horror film, per se, but it does have roots in the genre and contains some creepy and effective moments that take a hold of you. The most eerie of them all is a moment where Martin (playing possum to draw out some sinister people) sleeps in his car in the dark as two cloaked figures appear at his window wearing masks of a crow and a wolf. The methodical manner in which Popov directs this film makes this a very tense scene.
Bohos Topakbashian’s editing is persistent and allows the layers of the film to be revealed with precision without any pomp and circumstance. Harry Young’s moody cinematography matches the film’s tone, the way he shoots the dark woods and damp, misty, hills of England reveals an unsettling beauty. Matthew Laming’s ambient and haunting score matches Topakbashian and Young’s work without resorting to jump scare music cues.
Popov’s film is character-driven, a mystery combined with folklore and mythology. With this film the director proves how adept he is at visual storytelling. With little dialogue, Popov’s film continues to enthrall from moment to moment.
This film is a haunting and atmospheric experience that expertly uses mood to bring about the effectiveness of its dark mysteries.
There was a time when people would play an Ambient album (Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, etc.), put on their headphones, and lie back in the darkness, becoming lost in the moment, allowing for full immersion.
George Popov’s excellent thriller, “The Droving” is tantamount to that lost art of deep listening. This film is a rewarding experience.