Directed by Simeon Halligan
Well-to-do Londoner couple Sarah (McIntosh) and Ed (Williams) are on the lookout for an affordable larger home which architect Ed can make their own personal renovation project, and they happen to find the perfect farmhouse location amongst the rolling hills just across the Scottish border. This grand abode once belonged to a local extended family but has to be sold on after the death of the family’s patriarch. Unaccustomed to the kind of wealth enjoyed by those in the south of England, local residents simply cannot afford to purchase this kind of property on the current market – and Sarah and Ed are about to learn that these Scots also don’t take too kindly to what they see as rich outsiders encroaching on their heritage.
And so the loving couple’s first night in their new home soon becomes a terrifying fight for survival against a gang of armed, pig mask-wearing locals intent on dragging them away to a fate unknown.
As far as the home invasion genre goes, White Settlers does little to break the mould or elevate the material, but it does take a perfectly capable stab at the basics. Director Halligan keeps the tension boiling nicely during the initial break-in and stalking sequences, keeping the suspense topped up with some very well measured pacing. Excellent cinematography from James Swift renders much of the night-based happenings perfectly visible yet steeped in atmosphere, something which, when combined with some great location work and set design, sees White Settlers delivering an authentic feeling of threat and isolation which is driven home by an admirable performance from leading lady McIntosh.
The villains are relatively nondescript and interchangeable for much of the runtime, save for the very occasional exchange of dialogue, which leaves the majority of the work here squarely on the shoulders of Williams and McIntosh. Thankfully, both of the players give it their all, even if the script does call for sporadic moments of sheer idiocy and weakness that, in true horror cliché style, serve little purpose except to keep the victims’ positions rotating from lower to upper hand and back again as often as the film cares to. As convincing as the horror of their predicament may be due to the actors’ efforts, when they repeatedly fail to finish off downed foes (or even remove their weapons!), one begins to contemplate just how deserving they are of rescue – especially as it becomes clear that the film has no intentions of capitalising on the cultural theme underpinning it, something which would have served it well considering the current political environment surrounding Scotland’s upcoming independence referendum. A little more effort in fleshing out the villains to incorporate some of that might have freed White Settlers somewhat from the constraints of the cookie cutter, but alas, it is not to be.
Perhaps most damningly comes the ending, which reveals the nature of the pig-masked antagonists but chucks a massive blanket of incredulousness over their motivations. Given what they do here, and the fact that at least one of them ends up dead, how in the name of everything that exists, ever, have they come to the conclusion that they could get away with their behaviour? Perhaps it’s an attempt to avoid the film reveling in some ill-considered portrayal of the Scottish and their considerations of the English, but in doing so it instead manages to show the villains as, quite frankly, brainless idiots and thugs. That does seem perhaps more fitting, but feels distinctly watered down and unsatisfying.
Still, as mentioned, White Settlers certainly offers enough for a pleasingly tense time during Ed and Sarah’s night of horror. It looks great, delivers a couple of excellent turns for its leads and really only drops the ball in earnest with its ending. If you’re looking for something that really makes a mark on home invasion horror, then look elsewhere (You’re Next and Kidnapped should easily scratch that itch), but for some less demanding entertainment White Settlers is a suitably competent romp.
7 out of 5