Frightfest: The Moor (2023)

Director: Chris Cronin

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Starring: Sophia La Porta, David Edward Robertson, Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips, Mark Peachey, Vicki Hackett, Bernard Hill

Yorkshire, 1996. Childhood antics open Chris Cronin's directorial debut as young Claire (Billie Suggett) plans to steal sweets from a corner shop while her younger friend Danny (Dexter Sol Ansell) distracts the shopkeeper with a story about losing his dad. The successful plan unfolds in a single-shot, even though she nearly bumps into a man who enters the store, although her excitement transforms into horror upon discovering the man left the shop with Danny after claiming to be his father.

This chilling revelation shatters childhood innocence, as Danny is just one of many abducted children whose bodies were never found, suspected to have been hidden among the moors. Twenty-five years later, the kidnapper's release date draws closer and Danny's father, Bill (David Edward-Robertson), is determined to prevent that. Intending to find his son's body under the hopes that it will bring closure and lock away his son's killer for life, Bill asks Claire (Sophia La Porta) to use her amateur podcasting abilities to document his investigation.

The central performances exceptionally capture the unresolved grief and guilt driving this pair, as they desire to resolve a wrong which has long haunted them and desperately try making sense of a senseless tragedy. The impact of these crimes is effectively realized through Claire's interviews, conveying a sense of what was lost over "the summer of fear". Shared recollections of a more carefree time are forever changed in the aftermath, as the moors which once held a berry-picking tradition are now left with a haunting effect that repels locals through fear.

Left unseen throughout is the unnamed perpetrator of this misery, refusing to show his face clearly or make his voice heard due to nobody wishing to make him a celebrity - an understandable reasoning in the wake of so many Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer works still being made. This effective decision from Cronin and screenwriter Paul Thomas builds the character's mystique, as focusing on the traumatic impact his actions left on the survivors makes this figure feel even more monstrous.

The expansive and dangerous terrain of the moors leaves Bill's daily exploration to feel hopeless, although they are helped by diviner, Alex (Mark Peachey), and his psychic daughter, Eleanor (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips). As they venture deep to find Danny's resting place, the titular location casts an eerie presence which immensely rises in the third-act, as unsettling imagery and nerve-shredding tension deliver an atmosphere which threatens to choke viewers with fear. A late sequence may initially feel jarring as it switches to found-footage, yet it pays off by employing a first-person perspective of the damaging effects left by those refusing to move on, delivered in horrifying ways which threatens to take residence in viewer's nightmares.

The Moor made its World Premiere as part of First Blood at Frightfest 2023