Can an entire film be ruined by a bad accent? The answer, it seems, is absolutely – as surely as one can be ruined by a stupid wig (think any recent John Travolta film) or misjudged age makeup (step forward, Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom). Only recently was I decrying the Gahdarfal Amearican airccent sported by Mark Strong (himself no stranger to dodgy hairpieces) in the otherwise enjoyable Mindscape, but now here’s an even bigger offender: in X Moor, Nick Blood may have finally done what is known in the business as a “reverse Dick van Dyke” – committing to celluloid the very worst American accent every perpetrated by a British actor.
It’s a pity, too, because Luke Hyams’ script – about the legendary, still-elusive Beast of Exmoor – contains some promising stuff. The problem is, someone – let’s call them “the producers” – let Hyams direct it, instead of giving the script to someone who knew the first thing about working with actors, whether or not they comedy accents when they show up on set (or, in this case, location – not Exmoor itself, but somewhere in Northern Ireland.)
A £25,000 reward offered by a local newspaper brings “American” documentary makers Matt (Hyams) and his “girlfriend” Georgia (Melia Kreiling) to the remote North Devon moor in a bid to capture the fabled Beast – purported to be a wild cat, like a panther or a puma – on film. News that they are planning to do this by setting up 42 cameras to trees and rocks should set off a POTENTIAL FOUND FOOTAGE klaxon, likely to send jaded horror fans running faster than a cryptozoological phenomenon leaping from the heather. (Yes I know heather’s Scottish, not Devonian, but you didn’t know that ‘Devonian’ was a word, so we’re about even.) Thankfully, Hyams (or his producers) opt instead for ‘regular-cam’ as Matt and Georgia (who don’t seem to like each other very much, considering their supposed relationship) stalk their prey in the company of an experienced tracker (Mark Bonnar), cunningly named Fox, who appears to harbour a few secrets of his own. Much of the ensuing relationship-based back-and-forth – jealousy, suspicion, and so forth – is competently scripted, but nothing on Exmoor (or, for that matter, in X Moor) could possibly come close to the horror of that accent. One has to wonder, why did the British producers of a British horror film set in Britain and with an entirely British legend at its core, opt to cast a British actor and then allow him to speak with a heinous American accent? If they thought (in a somewhat quaint, old-fashioned sort of way) that having an American lead would help sales in the U.S. (it might have), why not just hire an American? And if you don’t want to hire an American, why not rewrite the character as an Englishman? Or an Irishman? Or a Scotsman?
X Moor is not short of neat ideas: the central conceit, that the Beast of Exmoor may be a serial killer, rather than an overgrown tabby, is a good one, and there are a few surprises – and one or two shocks – along the way. Hyams knows where to put the camera, and the long stretches of near-pitch blackness (and the accompaying sound design) serve to heighten tension, rather than (as is sometimes the case) betray a meagre lighting budget. That said, accents aside, Hyams does make a few other dodgy choices: notably the ripped-clothes ‘outfit’ Georgia is rather gratuitously given to wear for the third act (her sweater is literally ripped to shreds and hanging in tatters – why doesn’t she just take it off?). It’s a laughable misjudgment, but not quite as bad as the one which ruins the movie. Is it too late for an overdub? I suspect Nick Blood is available.