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Moody, oppressive, and devastatingly haunting, “The Moor” is as stunning as it is unnerving — a treat for fans of folk horror and true crime.

The Moor

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It’s hard to imagine something more devastating than the loss of a child, especially when that loss involves an abduction at the hands of a predator.

It must be utterly unthinkable to imagine your child’s terror and the suffering they may have faced, and impossibly cruel to be denied any real closure or the ability to bury a body and properly mourn.

Directed by Chris Cronin and written by Paul Thomas, The Moor begins with a heartbreaking prologue and a masterfully shot single-take scene in which a young boy, Danny (Dexter Sol Ansell), is taken from a convenience store during a brief moment when he is separated from his friend, Claire (Billie Suggett).

A potent opening credits sequence makes it clear that the boy’s abduction was part of a pattern — a rash of missing children that has left a community paralyzed with fear.

An unnerving headline is splashed across a local newspaper: Nowhere is safe.

A suspect was apprehended and convicted, receiving a single twenty-five-year sentence due to police incompetence. The bodies are suspected of being buried in the moor, a tract of open, uncultivated land.

Yet, a massive community search of the vast and inhospitable terrain amidst challenging weather conditions turned up nothing.

Now, twenty-five years later, the monster responsible for taking so many lives is set for release.

Danny’s father, Bill (David Edward-Robertson), is on a mission to retrieve evidence of the murders that will keep the killer behind bars.

Harboring a severe mistrust of the media thanks to his ordeal in the months and years following his son’s disappearance, he reaches out to the now-grown Claire (Sophia La Porta) for help. He wants Claire to use her podcast to help spread the word about the killer’s upcoming release and his ongoing search for bodies in the moor.

She resists at first; she’s not a documentarian or investigative journalist, and she’s not eager to relive the trauma of her childhood. But Bill’s desperate determination, combined with her guilt over losing her friend that fateful day, compels her to do what she can.

She begins to interview community members who lived through what was dubbed the Summer of Fear, and this adds a chilling authenticity to the film.

As Claire digs into why Bill is insistent upon searching in a very specific area of the massive moor, she learns he’s working with a pair of psychics — a father, Alex (Mark Peachey) and his daughter, Eleanor (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips) — who are guiding him where to look.

A shocking breakthrough in the case brings a modicum of justice, but Bill can’t rest until he finds his son. He implores Alex and Eleanor to join him and Claire for an ambitious search of the moor, accompanied by experienced trekker Liz (Vicki Hackett) as their safety guide.

Soon, a seemingly straightforward investigation turns into a bone-chilling supernatural mystery.

Young Eleanor taps into spiritual guidance to help rescue Danny from perpetual fear and darkness. Yet, the moor is a place of many dangers, far beyond the treacherous terrain, and forces conspire to keep the truth hidden.

It’s here where the movie becomes an altogether different animal and will either reel viewers in or potentially turn them off.

Much will depend on whether you are tuning in for more overt horror or are eager to invest in an eerie and atmospheric true crime, character-driven drama.

The Moor takes its time to become a traditional horror film. By then, many will have become frustrated by the film’s measured pace and emphasis on tension and psychological torment.

When things take a more overt turn into Blair Witch territory, others may bemoan the distinct tonal shift that unravels much of the quieter, emotionally driven horror that’s been so effective up to this point.

It ends up being two distinct films in one, and I was personally invested in both.

However, The Moor would have certainly been more cohesive and effective if it had been clearer about the type of film it wanted to be.

I love a good supernatural mystery, and there are some unquestionably frightening scenes in the latter half of The Moor. Still, the first half is so compelling for exploring very real, very human horror that I felt a bit cheated by the direction it inevitably took.

For me, there’s nothing more terrifying than senseless tragedy and the horrible realization that some things, most things, happen for no good reason at all. It’s what makes the loss of an innocent life so unbearable and nearly impossible to move past, and Edward-Robertson is masterful in conveying that grief and the gnawing need to find purpose and answers where there aren’t any.

I was chilled to the bone by the palpable anguish and unimaginable torment of the film’s true crime aspects, even before discovering that the film pulled inspiration from real events, the moors murders of the 1960s in Britain.

The film’s climax attempts to layer on some larger meaning and give a supernatural explanation for a mundane but morose evil. It’s well-executed but unnecessary. The banality of evil is often far more devastating.

Despite this disconnect, The Moor does so much right.

It’s a film steeped in atmosphere, and a sense of oppressive gloom permeates every frame. The evocative, deeply unsettling score ratchets up the palpable tension exquisitely.

The moor itself is stunningly shot, reflecting a beautiful but bleak and haunting terrain where sorrow and loss hang heavy amid the blankets of fog and darkness. It’s a powerful metaphor for the vast and sweeping landscape of grief that seems to stretch on indefinitely, with every attempted step forward threatening to pull us under and keep us trapped in our misery.

The performances are universally outstanding.

I fully believed in Bill’s all-encompassing grief and devotion to the well-being of his son, even in death. I felt Claire’s sustained guilt and pain from childhood trauma. I understood Alex’s love and concern for his daughter, and I connected deeply with Eleanor’s ingrained compassion and empathy — traits that helped her overcome the more frightening aspects of her gift while putting her in harm’s way.

It can feel overly long and prodding at two hours, with much of the horror and action compressed into the last twenty-five minutes. For me, it was never dull, but it does require patience.

The finale is thrilling but chaotic. The ending may or may not land for you, but there’s no denying it packs a punch.

The supernatural elements, including a truly intense and terrifying séance and expertly crafted possession scene, are mightily effective. Yet the real horror lies in the torment of the human spirit. Ultimately, The Moor is about the lingering effects of trauma and loss and the ways we try to escape them but remain mired in their depths.

The Moor is quite scary at times, dread-inducing throughout, and exceptionally well made. It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn fine feature directorial debut and an impressive calling card for Cronin.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4
THE MOOR is in UK theaters now and will be available on digital starting July 1, 2024.

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