Martin (Daniel Oldroyd) returns from military service in order to search for his missing sister Megan (Amy Tyger). His quest brings him to her last known whereabouts; a quiet mountainside town in rural England who are getting ready to celebrate a local festival known as “The Droving”. A friend of Megan’s named Tess (Suzie Frances Garton) tells Martin of a local gang that he suspects could be connected to his sister’s disappearance. This leads Martin down a path that unravels the dark history of not only this town, but Martin’s own with his time in service.
The Droving is the second feature by George Popov. His first, Hex,I reviewed late last year. While I enjoyed Hex, I do think its languishing pace and lack of general focus hindered what great elements I could see. Choosing to do another horror film, this one set in contemporary times, feels like a step in the right direction, and gives us a fascinating and bold outing that capitalises off slow build atmosphere, ambiguous preternatural elements and thematic strength.
One of its biggest assets is in its central performance. Daniel Oldroyd, working with Popov again after Hex, gives a captivating and well thought out performance as Martin. This is a character that has to go to pretty uncomfortable places and risk the audience finding him unlikeable, but Oldroyd manages to find pathos in a man desperate to find out what happened to a loved one. There are several moments where he has to flip a switch and come across as a Joe Everyman only to unleash later on, and he never misses a beat and it’s unsettling just how convincing he is with the “Nice Guy” act. The rest of the cast, with one or two exceptions, give in fantastic performances, too. I especially like how layered Amy Tyger manages to suggest the relationship with her character’s brother is in the sparse flashbacks we see her in.
It’s not just the performances that stand out here, however. The slow build and haunting, barren aesthetic of the mountains or even the village itself give a sense of foreboding, like there’s something darker in the air. It’s an excellent setting of the movie’s general tone; complemented by eye popping cinematography and an excellently used score. It’s a great example of low budget filmmaking: hitting the folk horror elements, but setting it in present day and keeping the more otherworldly elements to the background. It really sets off a sense of dread and slow building terror while pushing the budget towards polishing other aspects like editing or soundscape.
Probably one of my favourite aspects is its thematic strengths. The film delves a lot into believing myths and forming a desired ideology around them. It’s not something overtly stated in the text, but we see it in the cabin scene where a hermit talks about his devotion to local legends and his disgust at modern day technology besmirching the festival. How they integrate this with the protagonist’s own arc is wonderful, and really highlights this subtly in flashbacks scenes with his sister and her boyfriend. It’s a cleverly weaved metaphor which pays off really well in the final scene.
If I have any complaints, is that some of the long shots can feel like padding, especially near the beginning. They can also push the lead a little too far-it hits away at that delicate balance and risks making him just uncompellingly reprehensible. I don’t think they ever get to that point, but it comes close in certain moments. There’s also a fight scene that is a little poorly choreographed, which is a shame as other action is depicted extremely well, including a highlight in a scene after our lead scales the mountains. This is probably because other scenes involve clever prop use while this is more pure fisticuffs.
With all that said, The Droving is a wonderful example of low budget folk horror. It’s cleverly characterised with a brilliant central performance, subtle thematic complexity and a sense of terror that never overstates its welcome. It’s disturbing, well written and shocking in a way that understands the power of myths and the mysteries of the unknown. It’s well executed despite some pitfalls and definitely hits on the horrors of loss and fanatical devotion.