Great Visuals, Disappointing Story
The Droving is an Indie mystery thriller that could have been great. With some decent cinematography taking full advantage of the gorgeous Lake District setting, the visual design of the film is let down by failings in almost every other category. When it comes to Indies, it’s easy to look past some of the acting with a competent and enjoyable story. Although the opening 40 minutes or so do well to build up a tense atmosphere and some initial intrigue, the second half squanders this with a tonal shift and an ambiguous ending that leaves a lot up to interpretation.
The story itself is simple enough and revolves around a troubled man named Martin returning from military duty and desperate to find his sister who has gone missing. Between the ominous Droving Festival looming ever-nearer and the whispers that Martin’s sister may have been mixed up in satanic rituals, Martin sets out to try and find her. From here, the film shifts between different suspicious characters who may or may not know something as Martin pieces together what happened. Upon learning the truth, the second half of the film attempts to quicken the pace and change genres but fails to do so in a compelling way.
A lot of the film revolves around long monologues that add an air of eerie mystery to the run-time. For the first half, that’s actually not bad and one particular segment involving Martin and a lone hermit living in a hut on a hill is arguably one of the more engaging and tense segments in the entire film. Unfortunately this loop of Martin conducting big monologues and picking apart the weakness of the man or woman he;s talking to continues right the way through the film, failing to quicken the pace and instead flat-lining its way to the anticlimactic finish. Even worse, the ambiguousness of this tries to deliver something cleverer than it actually is.
The Droving is a little clumsy with its exposition and editing too, with the former told to us in pretty unnatural dialogue during the opening 10 minutes of the film. The latter, by comparison, focuses the camera almost exclusively on Martin’s face while another character is talking. The effect is something that tries to use long shots to drive home the emotion he’s feeling but comes across as awkward and clumsy. It’s not helped that the second half of the film starts adding flashbacks too and the hard cuts between those moments and the present are really distracting.
Infact, at one point these hard cuts had me convinced that everything we’re seeing is actually just a theoretical scenario played out in the mind of a soldier struggling to adjust to reality and suffering from a serious case of PTSD. Alas, that’s not the case but with no fade cuts or colour hue changes for the past scenes, it’s an unnecessarily confusing element in what could otherwise have been a decent bit of exposition. Given how late in the game these crop up, I can’t help but feel these flashes would have served better during Martin’s lone-trek through the rolling hills, reflecting on his journey while trying to find his sister.
Other than the visual design, there isn’t an awful lot else worth getting excited about here. For a thriller, there just aren’t that many thrills. As a mystery, the first half of the film opens and closes that chapter while the ambiguous ending comes out of left-field and tries to steer things into horror territory after failing to evolve into a thriller. The lighting is poor during sequences at night, the acting is hit and miss and the story’s inability to deliver any depth to these characters causes it to fail in hitting those emotional notes it could have so easily achieved with a tighter script. A shame for sure, but The Droving is not one to remember.