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[Review]: The Moor

a young girl with her head upside down, eye wide and mouth open

Between the years of 1963 and 1965, a crime of such abhorrence was carried out in the north of England that the entire country was shaken to its core. Colloquially referred to as the Moors Murders, couple Ian Brady and Myra Hindley brutally slaughtered five children and buried their bodies on the boundless Saddleworth Moor. Perhaps due to the realistic brutality of the crimes, few horror films have held the murders as a point of inspiration - and even fewer have done so with sensitivity.

Chris Cronin’s The Moor is that rare thing - a true crime inspired horror movie that manages to address the horror of its source material in a way that feels at once both indebted to its inspiration and equally as distinct from it, while avoiding any sensationalist exploitation of such a difficult subject.

The Moor follows true crime podcaster Claire (Sophia La Porta) who has more experience with the genre than most - as a child, her friend Danny was abducted and murdered after she convinced him to take part in an innocent sweet-shop heist gone wrong. Now, as an adult wracked with guilt, Claire agrees to join Danny’s father Bill (a palpably grief-stricken David Edward-Robertson) in the hunt for his son’s remains, which lie buried alongside those of other child victims of a nameless, faceless murderer long incarcerated. The search brings them, along with psychic dad-and-daughter duo Alex and Eleanor (Mark Peachey and Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips respectively) to the treacherous peat bogs of Holme Moor, where they find more than just bones buried beneath stone and mire. 

Where Cronin excels in The Moor is crafting a masterfully unsettling atmosphere. The looming threat of the moor itself becomes a nebulous villain of rolling hills and vast, unforgiving nothingness for miles. The entire film is imbued with a tangible damp dread, punctuated by screeching wind, groaning earth and – most effectively – stretches of silence to convey the sheer emptiness and futility of the task that lies before them. When these moments are shattered by – often cheap – jumpscares, the drizzly and dreary atmosphere undoubtedly suffers. As with many newer horror filmmakers, it would perhaps benefit Cronin to remember that when it comes to scares, it is always more effective to let a suffocating, lingering dread speak for itself. 

However, these moments are few and far between, and for the most part, The Moor effectively uses its eerie ambience to represent the trauma of answerless questions, and the effects they can have on an entire community. Claire’s interviews with those who remember Danny’s disappearance and the fallout of the case (one being the late Bernard Hill as a retired detective on the case) convey a summer of fear, where mothers clutched their children’s hands and whispers of stalking shadows grip entire villages in fright. Details of the case, such as the failure of the police and bloodthirsty media coverage, make Bill’s relentless quest to recover the body of his child all the more tragic. Refreshingly, the grisly fate of poor little Danny is not the focus here - the ones he left behind are.

Much like a trek on ravaged moorland, The Moor takes its time with unravelling the ghostly mysteries of the case – and this trek requires patience. Some of The Moor’s most intensely unsettling moments – like the hair-raisingly creepy séance scene - don’t arrive until much later in its runtime. If you have the patience, your time on The Moor will be rewarded with one of the scariest folk horror sequences this side of Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth (2021) or Mark Jenkins’ Enys Men (2022), as esoteric secrets hidden inside standing stones give way to a truly horrifying conclusion.

While Cronin’s decision to lean into supernatural themes will certainly be divisive between those who prefer their true crime-tinged horror to stay on the realistic side, as The Moor sinks further into grief and madness, one thing’s for sure - you’ll never look at a sheep the same way again.  

4 Screams out of 5

The Moor is now in UK cinemas and will be on Digital HD from 1st July 2024.


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