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Published May 9th, 2003 | by Jay Richardson

The Last Great Wilderness Review

Director David Mackenzie’s Young Adam, with Ewan McGregor, Peter Mullan and Emily Mortimer, is currently appearing in cinemas, but in the meantime there’s much to admire in his first feature, The Last Great Wilderness.

Charlie, (played by Mackenzie’s brother Alastair), is driving to Skye for revenge on the pop star who stole his wife, whilst Vincente (Jonny Phillips), is a gigolo on the run from a client’s husband.

Beginning like an odd-couple road movie in a motorway service station – Vincente as shifty as his Spanish accent, Charlie, too weak and indecisive to resist him a lift – it becomes a chase thriller when Charlie saves his companion from an ambush. Heading north to the Scottish Highlands, they run out of petrol and seek help at an isolated retreat. Unnerved by the surroundings, they meet an assortment of oddballs and damaged souls: including protective single-mother Claire (Victoria Smurfit), intense DIY man (Ford Kiernan) and a houseowner who knows more than he’s telling (David Hayman). But Vincente is more concerned with the ghost of a young girl, and as Charlie and he become part of this unusual family, the past returns to haunt them.

Shot on digital camera, this grainy, low-budget production makes a virtue of limited resources to concentrate on character, and is rewarded by some fine performances. What could have been a cheap scotch blend of Deliverance and The Wickerman, benefits from being an ensemble piece, compensating for its slightly straight central pairing by surrounding them with intriguing but essentially human eccentrics. This is not to criticise Mackenzie or Phillips – far from it, they align the audience to their uneasiness and incomprehension superbly – simply to highlight that The Last Great Wilderness is a film skewing its narrative from all quarters.

The scenes prior to the retreat are lightweight by comparison to what follows, but overall this is a hugely promising piece of independent filmmaking that bodes well for Mackenzie’s future projects. And listen out for Jarvis Cocker as the voice of the cuckolding pop star.

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