The Droving (2020)
I love folk horror, so when I saw that Rubicon Films were going to release a modern folk horror I was very excited. Generally speaking I was impressed with their previous film, Hex, another folk horror set in the English Civil War and I was looking forward to seeing how they have developed as filmmakers.
The Droving tells the story of ex-soldier Martin (Daniel Oldroyd) and his quest through some beautiful countryside to find his missing sister. Martin's military history involves some interrogation experience and he puts this to use in uncovering what happened to his younger sister through layers of tradition and rituals around a local droving festival.
Like Hex this is a film with deeper themes than the surface story- isolation, loss and grief are woven throughout and when The Droving gets it right, it's very effective.
I have to say that across the board Rubicon Films have improved. I think George Popov has made big strides as a director and, along with Jonathon Russell, the writer has progressed. There’s still maybe a slight tendency to over write (but only in parts). This is a big step forward in production, it’s ambitious and has its emphasis on building an atmosphere of coming dread that I love in folk horror.
Rubicon Films know how to pick a location. Hex had some great locations, but The Droving is packed with them from the bizarre hiking hut that seems to be a natural part of the mountain to the wide expanse of countryside and The Wicker Man esque droving parade. This is a beautifully shot film and I think Director of Photograhpy, Harry Young, and camera operator, Richard Suckling, deserve a lot of credit for their work on the film.
If I have one slight criticism it would be that the quality of acting varies in The Droving, but it’s centred around a strong performance from Daniel Oldroyd, giving shades of Paddy Considine in Dead Man’s Shoes. The flashback sequences between Martin and his sister don't quite hit the right note for me, but this is more to do with them taking me out of the main body of the story.
The Droving takes its time and there is a clear emphasis on building the tension and creating an atmosphere throughout. This is something which I think is a hallmark of a good folk horror—The Wicker Man, The Ritual, The Witch, these films make a deliberate attempt to pile on the tension in layers until everything boils over in a powerful final act. While there is a big step up in terms of the fight scenes from Hex to The Droving, I would like to see Rubicon bare their teeth a little. When Martin’s questioning gets more…physical it feels like the intensity needs to be ratcheted up—we need to be made to feel uncomfortable.
Something we’ve been talking about on the podcast over the last few weeks is when horror films are darkly funny without tipping over into comedy. The Droving has some moments like this which I think shows the progression from Hex. I could see “Pick up your furry friends and fuck off” on a t-shirt!
I think there’s no question the script is stronger than Hex and I think what I find most enjoyable about it is that I don’t think this is George Popov and Jonathon Russell hitting their peak. I think The Droving is a really good piece of independent British folk horror and I think whatever Rubicon come up with next is going to be even better. If they can continue to progress then I think they’re going to get more and more attention—deservedly so.
So now we move on to the Hermanos of Horror rating system...
Is it a good film? 2.5/3
The quality of the acting sometimes dips, but overall this is a good indie folk horror with brilliant visuals and a great score from Matthew Laming.
Did I enjoy it? 1.5/2
Yep. I'm a sucker for folk horror and this had enough of the ominous atmosphere for me to feel at home. I particularly liked the ending (becoming a bit of a thing with Rubicon productions!)
Obviously in the realm of folk horror there are some standout classics I would recommend before The Droving, but if I was recommending low budget indie folk horrors then this would be towards the top of the list.
Fear factor 1.25/3
I think The Droving could bare its teeth a little more and a couple of the scenes are a little too long, but overall I think the atmosphere is effective with some creepy moments.
The Droving is available now on Amazon Prime Video (and you should definitely stick on an animal mask, join the parade and enjoy it)