Lost in the mist, their ship sunk after crashing on the rocks and their thirteen missing crewmates presumed drowned, the only three survivors of the disaster are Oliver Gosling, injured but nominally in command, Jim Bickley and Cailean Ferris, cold, soaked and desperate until through the thick fog land is sighted, the isle, unmarked on their charts.
The year is 1846 and the place is somewhere off the west coast of Scotland, and across the rolling waves they row to shore, hoping to find safety and shelter, but the isle is near deserted and the greeting they receive from Fingal MacLeod is curt to the point of hostility, evasive when they ask about how they might arrange passage to the mainland.
No more welcoming is crofter Douglas Innis who is determined the survivors should not associate with his niece Lanthe; initially refusing them shelter, he later seems more concerned that they should remain indoors and not explore what little there is of the island, but sure enough the impatient men wish to make their way home and they defy the instructions of their reluctant host.
Largely filmed on Eilean Shona in the Inner Hebrides, director Matthew Butler-Hart makes the most of his location for The Isle, but rustic and rugged scenery alone is insufficient to carry a feature film and the necessary atmosphere of enchantment with an undercurrent of dread is never conveyed by the visuals or the omnipresent mournful dirge of Tom Kane’s soundtrack.
Prefaced by a quote from Walter Copland Perry, the darkness and mystery hinted at are poorly developed in the script by husband-and-wife team Matthew and Tori Butler-Hart, the latter of whom appears as Lanthe, the dialogue flat as the obvious is stated time and again: this be a strange place of strange people, we should going now.
The odd behaviour of Innis and MacLeod (Conleth Hill and Dickon Tyrrell) more akin to The League of Gentlemen than The Wicker Man, Gosling, Bickley and Ferris (Alex Hassell, Graham Butler and Fisayo Akinade) have little personality between them and their lack of urgency borders on indifference, undermining any sense of peril which might drive the film.
The Vanishing and Cold Skin having used the same imagery to represent physical and emotional isolation, other echoes are Red Shift in the transformations manifested as epileptic fits and the layered overlapping voices of Kate Bush’s The Ninth Wave, another tale of lives lost at sea, while The Rusalka gave a more intimate and engaging interpretation of the same folklore.
Slow and often heavy-handed, the flashbacks feel less like a natural flow than necessary exposition, and while the film comes together in the last half hour it is already too late, the overdue introduction of the supernatural elements hokey rather than sinister, leaving The Isle a destination whose potential harbours only disappointment.