by Hope Madden
It’s been almost exactly one year since Martin’s little sister Meg disappeared. The Droving festival is upon us again, and Martin’s come back to town to do his own investigating.
In filmmaker George Popov’s sophomore effort, following his underseen 2017 gem Hex, the co-writer/director once again weaves elements of a psychological thriller with supernatural themes to create an effectively off- kilter sensibility.
Martin (Daniel Oldroyd, also of Hex) isn’t exactly what he appears to be. His own arc, much of it grounded in slowly-revealed backstory, is what drives the film.
Martin’s internal journey is more deceptively complicated than expected. It creates an underlying unease that nicely offsets Droving’s almost poetic visuals. Though Oldroyd understated grace holds all the film’s unusual elements together, he can’t quite convince when the moment comes to unveil Martin’s most dramatic levels of psychic damage.
The clues Martin pieces together feel too easily sleuthed. The Droving would have benefitted from some narrative complications, some untidiness. Still, the mystery itself—built on a handful of tense set pieces that deliver menace and weirdness in equal measure—is a good one.
Popov’s instinct for visual storytelling is again the most compelling argument for the film. Hex, made on next to nothing, delivered a spooky, medieval atmosphere thanks in large part to framing and cinematography.
For Droving, Popov works again with cinematographer Harry Young, whose shots are often beautifully lit, giving them a painterly quality. From early, eerily quiet pre-festival shots of Martin walking the streets of town to the more frenetic, dizzying festival footage, Popov sets a creepy stage for his thriller.