The Scottish Highlands are the perfect setting for Andrew Cumming’s prehistoric genre piece The origina survival horror that doubles as a thoughtful human drama as its main cast of six fight for their lives against a violent, unseen creature. The origin had its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival.
The setting is 45,000 years ago, and a landing party led by Adem (Chuku Modu) arrives on the shore of what they hope is the promised land. However, it is a false dawn: the ground is barren and the group must keep moving if they are to survive. But as they do, the terrain grows more forbidding — open plains and claustrophobic forests — and something terrifying follows them, making nightfall especially tense.
There are many parallels with other films, in particular with John Carpenter’s. The thingbut The origin he goes much further in his world-building, having his characters speak a strange guttural language (actually a mixture of Arabic and Basque). It’s a bold choice and, like cinematographer Ben Fordesman’s atmospheric but often dimly lit lens, one that lends itself to a richer, more immersive experience in a big, dark theater than anything a streaming platform can offer. . In this sense, the storytelling, for the most part, is incredibly visual, and the spaces do a lot of the heavy lifting. beyond the frame, which is a constant reminder of how completely alone and vulnerable these people are. The haunting sound mix is also crucial, working in tandem with Adam Janota Bzowki’s primal yet subtle score to bring tension and much-needed relief.
The cast, while their safety is not guaranteed and only one will prevail as what could be called the film’s only true lead, is a genuine ensemble, and the diversity of the cast helps establish the troubled status of the group to begin with: the headstrong. Also, his more empathetic brother Geirr (Kit Young), his son Heron (Luna Mwezi), and his pregnant “wife” Avé (Iola Evans). Rounding out the six are two foragers, the elderly Odal (Arno Lüning) and the teenage Beyah (Safia Oakley-Green), outsiders who come to embody the film’s slowly emerging central theme of community and otherness.
The reveal, when it does come, is more of a slowly unfolding realization than a Shyamalan daze (no, not the present or an apocalyptic future), with plenty of clues along the way that pay close attention. It may not be particularly subtle in that sense, but The origin has a lot to say about the slow and steady evolution of man, reflecting all the myriad divisions in the world today, from Brexit to Biden’s America, and is especially evocative of a world coming out of lockdown (the movie was shot in the height of Covid restrictions and shows a sense of isolation). In that sense, it is a warning as old as time, or as the preternaturally wise Odal puts it: “The danger of bringing light into a dark place is that you may find out what lives in the dark.”