While working on a human geography project as part of her studies, Nikki (Press) travels to an isolated Scottish island and presents herself as a prospective tenant at isolated house owned by her birth mother Phyllis (McTeer), who doesn't recognise her. As she plots her revenge against the woman who abandoned her, she's surprised to discover that she has a brother, Calum (Morgan). But her continual questions about their husband-father are blanked, and life on the island becomes increasingly intriguing as she seeks answers about her past.
Directors Taylor and Mitchell use grey-tinged cinematography and an oppressively creepy sound-mix to create a jittery, dark visual style. It's seriously bleak and portentous, with foreboding skies constantly reminding us that there's no way this can end happily. Not that it's ever remotely happy along the way. But at least the mystery is compelling, keeping us guessing with half-answered questions, vague suggestions, hesitant conversations, haunting flashbacks and folk tales illustrated with inky animation.
Nikki's deep bitterness is complicated and intriguing; she wants to get even for her lifetime of misery, but is increasingly drawn to these people and this place. Meanwhile, Calum has a disarming innocence that's slightly unbalanced.
But this is nothing compared to his haunted, witchy mum, who keeps him on a tight leash amid her violent mood swings. All three performances are packed with jarring touches that border on camp.
In fact, the whole film is rather arch and gothic, and overplayed by the directors as well as the cast members. It's not particularly scary, but the fear in Nikki's eyes is pretty unsettling, and Press plays her with a haunted quality that's not always easy to watch. But the key action-oriented scenes are shot and edited in such a way that it's impossible to see quite what is happening. And the story takes some very dark turns that stretch our sympathy to the breaking point.
Run time: 138 mins
In Theaters: Friday 19th February 2010
Box Office USA: $125.0M
Distributed by: Paramount Studios
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Fresh: 166 Rotten: 76
IMDB: 8.1 / 10
Director: Brek Taylor, Elizabeth Mitchell
Producer: Amy Gardner, Clare Tinsley, Charlotte Wontner
Screenwriter: Elizabeth Mitchell
Also starring: Elizabeth Mitchell