This Yorkshire-set horror movie opens in the mid-1990s with a true crime-influenced nightmare scenario – young Claire (Billie Suggett) prevails on more timid child Danny (Dexter Sol Ansell) to distract a shopkeeper in a small village while she thieves sweets … telling the kid to tell the man behind the counter that he’s looking for his Dad. Only while Claire gets away clean, Danny doesn’t follow her – when she goes back to the shop, she’s told it’s all right because Danny’s father picked him up. And there’ve been a rash of mystery child disappearances in the region.
This precipitates a deftly-sketched in manhunt and the apprehension of a suspect – barely seen – who goes away for a long stretch, but never reveals (Ian Brady-like) where he buried the bodies. In the present day, grown-up Claire (Sophia La Porta) is still traumatised by guilt and goes along with whatever Danny’s father Bill (David Edward-Robertson) wants to do to put the case to rest … with especial urgency since the presumed culprit is due for release and perhaps teasing the possibility of leading the police to the burial sites. Bill has called in dowser Alex (Mark Peachey) and his even more sensitive psychic daughter Eleanor (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips) and dragooned moorland ranger Liz (Vicki Hackett) into a series of ventures out onto the extensive, perhaps haunted, definitely dangerous moor in search not just of a body but perhaps of a ghost. Eleanor has a spirit guide with her – until, in a scary moment, she finds herself unprecedentedly alone – but every time she opens herself up to the beyond, she puts herself at a risk of not coming back from some cosmic void. Alex uses Pi as the mantra to haul her back – which leads to a fresh chill as she contorts and stutters a number.
Written by Paul Thomas and directed by Chris Cronin, The Moor is a hymn to rugged, barren, misty, treacherous countryside – with standing stones, peat bog mummies, echoes of ancient sacrifices and a shifting, irrational landscape – but also an effective, gripping character piece powered by an intense performance from Edward-Robertson as Bill, a man who has wrapped himself in his family tragedy and is willing to put anyone and anything at risk to achieve something more frightening than closure. As he continues dragging others – increasingly reluctant, afraid or damaged – out onto the moor, Bill becomes as much of a threat as the sucking bogs or the shadowy perpetrator. At a slightly extended two hours, the film has time for nuances of character and a great deal of atmosphere – given how much fuss has been made in recent years about folk horror, it’s nice to find a movie which doesn’t just go for the usual tropes (animal masks) and gets close to the strangeness of the moors. It has a few inset found footage elements, which set up a powerful climax. With a telling small role for the always-welcome Bernard Hill.