Sometimes, when you settle down to watch a movie, you find yourself battling a strange sense of unease. Not the unease you expect or want to feel when watching a horror film, that sense of growing tension, dread building as a story unfolds, but more a nagging sense that something’s amiss, something’s not quite right, gnawing away at the pit of your stomach. Settling down to watch Simeon Halligan’s White Settlers, I found myself plagued by a sense of disquiet that had nothing to do with the film, a dark, half-remembered realisation dancing tantalisingly out of reach. “Never mind,” I thought, “if it’s important, it’ll come back to you…”

An affluent, middle class English couple, Sarah (Pollyanna McIntosh) and Ed (Lee Williams) abandon the urban rat race of London for an idyllic new life in the Scottish border country (well, actually Derbyshire with a random shot of a Highland cow coz you can’t move North of the border for shaggy longhorn cattle) after buying their dream farmhouse despite the estate agent’s (Emmerdale’s Joanne Mitchell sporting a Brigadoon accent so awful she could be James Doohan’s daughter) not at all ominous tale of it being the site of a historical battle between the Scots and English.

Settling down for their first night in their new home, the jittery Sarah finds herself jumping at every strange noise and creak, forcing the exasperated Ed to put his trousers back on and go roaming around in the dark investigating. But when Ed disappears and a gang of pig-masked angry locals, under the direction of “the Big Man” (Billy Connolly? Surely not…) attack the house, Sarah is forced into a desperate battle for survival.

As if the estate agent’s dodgy accent or the film’s Midlands exteriors weren’t bad enough (even in the dark Derbyshire looks nothing like The Mairches), the final nail in the coffin of White Settlers isn’t its frankly insulting cop-out ending but the moment when Scots actress McIntosh (essaying a far better English accent than Mitchell’s Scottish one), lost, alone and injured as she’s hunted through the woods by locals in pig-masks with hatchets, is briefly aided by a mute Scotland football strip-sporting youngster (mute, I imagine because his Scots accent is probably worse than Mitchell’s).

Squatting, the boy reaches into his backpack and tosses McIntosh a…bottle of water!  That was the precise moment when I spat a disbelieving expletive at the screen and knew that the film had irretrievably lost me, Halligan and writer Ian Fenton’s experience of Scotland obviously being restricted to having seen The Wicker Man on telly.  There are many things the youth could have withdrawn from that bag – a can of Irn-Bru, a poke of chips, a knife, a gun, a bag of glue, an opium pipe, the lost Ark of the Covenant – but the one thing no wee Scottish Ned would be carrying around is a bottle of water.  Buckfast tonic wine; yes.  Water; not a chance in Hell.

Insultingly being marketed as the “Scottish Referendum Horror Film,” White Settlers, unsurprisingly, singularly fails to engage with the very real issues of self-determination, social justice, socio-political and financial independence fuelling the Referendum debate nor does it address the White Settler phenomenon that in the ‘90s saw homegrown tartan terrorists like Settler Watch and Siol Nan Gaidheal pursue a campaign of largely faceless violence and intimidation (through property damage and letterbombs) against the incomers they saw as stealing Scots jobs and homes. But then it’s hardly surprising that a film shot in the Midlands and written and directed by a couple of middle class Englishmen fails to engage with Scottish politics or address in anything but the most superficial fashion the real resentments of many rural (not just Scottish) communities faced with an influx of wealthy urban dwellers. Instead, Halligan and Fenton ineptly recycle the bits of Ils (Them) and Eden Lake they really liked, throwing in the animal-masked antagonists of You’re Next (God, that visual motif got old quick), to produce a home invasion thriller that fails to thrill.

As the victimised couple McIntosh and Williams are decent, better than the film deserves, creating a believably bickering loving couple, the Amazonian McIntosh (familiar to genre audiences for her strong roles in films like Lucky McKee’s The Woman) refreshingly cast against type as an ordinary woman fighting for her life but the film is badly paced, it’s a good thirty minutes before ANYTHING happens, the action when it comes is poorly staged (though there’s a moment with a pig that did make me jump) and the laughably illogical ending undercuts everything that’s gone before it, insulting the audience.

And the vague sense of unease I felt as I sat down to view White Settlers? It was my subconscious sounding the alarm. I realised halfway through that Halligan’s last film, Splintered, had made me want to hurt myself, made me want to poke out my own eyeball and bat it around my head like a Swingball in a forlorn attempt to distract myself from it’s awfulness.  On a positive note, at least White Settlers is better than that.


VERDICT: [rating=2]

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