An evil creature stalks a paleolithic clan in truly original new horror, The Origin
So, look, I hate horror films. I don’t like being scared; in fact, I’ve spent most of my life actively trying to avoid it, so I’m not the sort we’d usually put forward to review this sort of feature. But we’re living through something of a horror renaissance where filmmakers are creating some of the most creative new films out there – so I just keep getting drawn in. The Origin is one of these films.
Set 45,000 years ago in the paleolithic era, The Origin follows a small group of nomadic people. After animals stopped migrating to their region, they were forced to travel across the sea in search of a new land to hunt and forage. After safely washing up somewhere in Northern Europe, they find this new shore is barren too. Forced to head further and further inland they find themselves hunted by a mysterious monster who is snatching them up one by one and killing them in grisly fashion. In a tale as old as time the group must band together if they want to have any hope of survival.
The debut feature from director Andrew Cumming, The Origin was shot in the Highlands of Scotland in complete isolation due to covid. The cast includes Chuku Modu, Lola Evans and Kit Young (Shadow and Bone, NT Midsummer Night’s Dream) who deliver the whole script in a fictional prehistoric language. Cumming pulls off remarkable world building, treating us to what we think is a familiar story, which is made all the more extreme by the already brutal world these characters exist in. With nothing to them but sharpened sticks and the clothes on their backs it’s a harrowingly desperate situation.
The cinematography is powerfully evocative, mostly down to the incredible use of natural lighting. With large sections of the film set at night Cumming lights his characters with firelight and in one memorably haunting scene the northern lights – it has a beautiful, otherworldly quality without succumbing to the blanket darkness that perverts so much of the genre. Scenes shot in twilight are particularly beautiful with mountains standing in relief against hues of blue and purple. The sound design is also incredibly clever – watch it in a cinema or with surround sound, if possible, you’ll jump out of your skin when you hear the creature slither from one side of the room to the other behind you.
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There’s plenty of familiar tropes here, with a small group of disparate people having to fight for survival whilst also fighting amongst themselves. Tempers fray, superstitions are raised and factions form when the group’s leader is challenged. The Origin time and again lulls you into thinking things have calmed down before making you shudder with sudden acts of unexpected violence (and I fell for it every time.)
Whilst you’re half expecting a ‘twist’ to come, it’s not necessarily the one you think it is. There is plenty of horror to shriek at, but the filmmakers also use the film the challenge the viewer to think about the nature of the origin of humanity and the cost of evolution, it’s ambitious storytelling. Atmospheric, inventive and downright bloody scary at times, The Origin is a brilliant debut from an exciting new talent.
The Origin is receiving its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival. A general release date has yet to be announced.