Last year The Northman saw an arthouse action film housed in a prehistoric setting, and a reasonable budget served the film’s shamanistic visuals well. For filmmakers with less money to play with and the same setting, the landscape is a character in itself. A few years ago the short The Neolith utilised the Isle of Skye’s foreboding crags to craft a philosophical film, one with some light in its aesthetic. Now we have Scottish director Andrew Cummings The Origin, filmed in the Highlands, and marketed as a survival horror. While this tag is a little misleading, it’s great to see a Scottish-made film with such intense atmosphere and powerful visuals.
A group of stone-age people arrive in a new land, hoping to build a life there. Their hopes are at first dealt a blow as the land is barren and there is little food. Then a fresh fear arrives: something is picking them off one by one, in the cover of the dark. The survivors will soon discover whether something supernatural is afoot, as they turn the tables and hunt the hunter.
From the opening evocative shots of the group lit by a campfire in the pitch dark, to the cave interiors framed with pools of blue light in the picture’s finale, the depth of visual style here is constantly engaging. Some shots in the final confrontation reminded me of such classics as Highlander, with peals of lightning adding to the tension. Cummings uses the dramatic and boggy aspects of the highlands to powerful effect, whether it be a forest for the initial confrontation or the open plains for building a surreal atmosphere.
Those looking for a tension/release narrative like those in other survival horrors may be slightly disappointed, as at no point did the film deliver this kind of feeling for me. That being said, gore, a cannibalistic subplot, knifings and jump scares are all present and correct if those aspects are what you enjoy.
The mostly inexperienced cast lend a welcome authentic and emotive power to each of their characters, with Safia Oakley-Green as Beyah standing out. She is one to watch for the future and won Breakthrough Performance at the British Independent Film Awards (2022) for the role. Her journey from abused underling with a mind of her own to strong warrior is believable, and shades of colour are added with her open expression and emotion-filled eyes. Kit Young as Geirr is another character with some depth, and both actors step up to the plate as the picture progresses.
The Origin depicts a terror-filled narrative and the harshness of its Highland setting through the lens of sumptuous visuals. Though things get a little predictable come the final third, the strength of this aspect and powerful performances ensures the film is a haunting one.