X Moor (2014)

Review first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

“It’s a half-puma half-leopard cross-breed,” says big cat hunter Fox (Mark Bonner) when asked what a ‘pumapard’ is. Fox is guiding American amateur cryptozoologist Georgia (Melia Kreiling) and her boyfriend Matt (Nick Blood) across Exmoor in North Devon, where they hope to capture on film (for a £25,000 prize) a large black feline rumoured to be killing the local livestock. Fox suggests their target is a different hybrid: an escaped melanistic leopard that has “interbred with other species of anomalous cats over the years” – but in the dimly moonlit forest, this trio is about to discover a ‘dumping ground’ of young women’s corpses, and a Beast of a rather different kind from what they were expecting.

Hybridity abounds in Luke Hyams’ X Moor – not just in the nature of the predatory hunters that drive its cat-and-mouse dynamics, but also in its promiscuous blending of subgenres and forms. When a hunter has the name fox, identities – especially, but not exclusively, those between predator and prey – seem set to blur. Here objective shots, intradiegetic multi-camera ‘found’ footage and shaky killer POVs freely cross paths, and while the film may start out as a simple-seeming monster hunt, it will take several disorienting turns on the heath. Straw Dogs (1971) is evoked as our American visitors find themselves being terrorised by local South Englanders, while their frantic moonlit walk across the moors recalls An American Werewolf In London (1981). The Most Dangerous Game (1932), The Wicker Man (1973) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles are all expressly name-checked, a serial killer narrative is brought relatively early into the mix, and one character even reads the horrors unfolding as a ghost story. Not sure who (or what) dunnit, viewers are soon as lost as the characters in these perilous, paranoid woods.

Inevitably, though, X Moor must at some point settle on a subgenre, and once it gets down to slasher business, the films starts to show a more routine side – that routine comprising a lot of mad dashing and screaming through trees so ill lit that at times it is difficult to tell one character from another (or, crucially in one scene, grief from masturbation). It perhaps does not help matters that the script never really invites us to like these characters enough for their fates to have any impact, and gropes about in the closing minutes for flashback pathos after it is already far too late. Meanwhile, at the beginning when she is relaxed Georgia sounds American, but near the end when in trouble she sounds more English. Perhaps it is a hybrid accent.

Anton Bitel