Film Review: The Moor

  • Reviews

Every now and again you stumble across a feature whose oppressive mood and feel seems to seep out of the screen and into the world around you like a thick, rolling fog of anxiety. The sense of the film can be overpowering, almost suffocating, and casts a spell of slow burning horror that colours every other aspect of the filmmaking process.

Welcome to Chris Cronin’s masterful folk-horror film, The Moor.

Still from The Moor.

Aspiring podcaster Claire (Sophia La Porta) is approached by Bill (David Edward-Robertson), the father of her murdered childhood friend, to help him investigate the seemingly endless moors of Yorkshire in the hopes of recovering his son’s body. Bill’s hopes have been reignited after twenty-six years by local psychic Alex (Mark Peachy) and his gifted daughter Eleanor (Elizabeth Dormer-Philips); though Eleanor warns of something ancient and dangerous stirring on the moors, something that has dark intentions on the souls of any who stray too far into its endless, forgotten realm.

The Moor is a tremendous slice of slow-burn terror that creates a story of human horror while the supernatural lingers ever in the air. British audiences will find the unsettling parallels to the infamous moors’ murders committed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley between 1963 and 1965 difficult to unsee, though the film does well to never come across as crass or exploitative.

The precredit scene takes us back to the fictional ‘Summer of Fear’ in 1996 where a spate of child disappearances in the Yorkshire area have had the entire town paralysed with terror. After we witness the disappearance of Claire’s friend Danny, the film cannily gives us the rest of the story through its brilliant opening credits, where false news reports and footage are spliced in with panicked hunts across the moors, leading to the arrest of a local man for the crimes.

David Edward-Robertson and Sophia La Porta in The Moor.

In a film which champions restraint ahead of spectacle, it was vital that the casting for the film is on point. And it is a real triumph of the film that its cast of talented actors all excel with some terrific material.

Sophia La Porta is terrific as Claire, a woman perhaps reluctant to confront the childhood trauma that has affected so much of her character. Smart, driven and capable, her unravelling and rebirth across the film are affecting and very well observed. Similarly, the barely restrained rage and grief flitting across the eyes of David Edward-Robertson’s hangdog expression throughout the film is wonderfully understated. In a lesser performance the temptation would have been to play this big, but Edward-Robertson’s restrain paints an all too realistic picture of loss and despair.

Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips as Eleanor is perhaps given the toughest task with trying to marry up the very real, human drama with the more outlandish supernatural elements, but does so wonderfully. Kind, determined and full of heart, Eleanor delivers some of the film’s stand out moments and one scene of absolute blood-chilling horror where I almost forgot to breathe.

And to be clear; The Moor is scary film.

Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips in The Moor.

A lot of the horror comes from the exquisite feel that the film evokes but it also isn’t afraid to tap into folk legend and the type of unknowable nightmare fiction that Lovecraft might have crafted. While the dark and fog mean that you are never sure of what you are seeing, The Moor has a couple of set-pieces that are heart-stoppingly effective in their simplicity.

There are echoes of Ben Wheatley’s uncanny folk-horror, where nightmare logic reigns supreme and the real world slowly bleeds away to reveal the hellish wasteland of the human condition. The film touches on The Blair Witch Project with its interesting mix of traditional filming and Claire’s disorientating body-cam; not since Heather and company’s visit to the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland has the unknown of the wilderness felt so affecting. There are other, more unsettling parallels with Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick’s masterpiece, but to reveal them here would be unfair.

Bernard Hill in The Moor.

Cronin (making his feature debut with The Moor) crafts a masterful sense of the endless, of unknowable horrors from a time and place lost to the passing of eternity. The moors themselves are shot masterfully, really capturing their stark beauty and treacherous terrain. Mist and thick fog hide peat bogs as lethal as quicksand, and cavernous cracks from which there may be no escape are never more than a wrong step away. Cronin uses the landscape here in much the same way that Vince Gilligan uses the seemingly endless stretches of the Albuquerque desert to convey an otherness that really disorientates and unsettles in equal measure.

The film is not without some issues.

The pacing of The Moor may not be to everyone’s taste. While the film’s triumph comes from the atmosphere it builds, those hoping for a little more bite with their horror may find themselves going hungry.

Still from The Moor.

Also, there is a sense that the film is drawing to a haunting, ambiguous close before a last act arrives that feels a little heavy-handed and ill fitting with the rest of the piece. There feels like a missing scene between the ominous fade to black and the film’s final bodycam shots, where it is difficult to work out precisely what has happened until the film makes it abundantly clear. Your mileage for the ending may vary, but as a fan of the eerie spell the story had cast, I was left a little disappointed by the film’s final moments (though it does end on a doozy of an image).

The Moor is an affecting, unsettling trip into the wilderness that feels like a waking nightmare from which there is no escape. Travel if you must, but be quick to avoid the cold hunger of the ancient ones in the dark…

The Moor had its World Premiere as a part of First Blood at FrightFest 2023. 

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