Travellers (2011)

Directed By: Kris McManus
Written By: Kris McManus
Starring: Shane Sweeney
  Tom Geoffrey
  Alex Edwards
  Dean S. Jagger

Travellers is a film of two distinct halves. The first half is an amateurish affair, laughable in places, with a ropey script that never quite works. The second half, however, is an interesting character study and a tense horror / thriller. This is solid work and worth watching for the direction, compelling score and the intricate acting of Tom Geoffrey and Dean S. Jagger.

A warning to perfectionists; Travellers is extremely low-budget, with poor sound and camera quality throughout. If this doesn’t deter you – and it shouldn’t – then what you’ll discover is a surprisingly decent film.

Bored of their safe city-life, four young men bike into the countryside for a weekend of adventuring. Unsurprisingly they fail to ingratiate themselves with the locals (and the audience) and proceed to vandalize a lonely caravan in a field, spraying the words “Pikey Scum” across it. This, of course, is an idiotic mistake and they soon find themselves running for their lives as shotgun-toting Irish travellers hunt them down.

The initial build-up of Travellers is close to woeful. The main characters are painted as arrogant and blindly ignorant, the local pub is full of clichéd country folk stolen directly from An American Werewolf in London and the perfunctory dialogue is delivered poorly by a shaky cast. We never gain access to our protagonists as individuals and they blur into one for the initial twenty minutes, even when they’re sitting around the campsite at night, chatting inanely.

Travellers, however, really kicks into gear the next morning, when adventure-hungry Andy (Tom Geoffrey) takes out his frustration on a caravan parked in the adjoining field. Andy’s friends Jon (Ben Richards), Dan (Alex Edwards) and Chris (Shane Sweeney) all fail to stop him, simply standing by as he destroys someone’s home. When the owners return, Dan is kidnapped and the others flee, forcing themselves into a surprisingly brutal game of cat-and-mouse. The capture of Dan means we begin to learn more about the politics and lives of the characters and this is where Travellers excels, becoming an interesting character study as well as a nasty horror / thriller.

The major flaw in Travellers is the absolute lack of subtlety. The mystery behind Jon’s violent death will only mystify simpletons, the themes of trust and nature are glaringly obvious and the script is entirely without subtext. Although there are shades of Deliverance, Southern Comfort and Eden Lake throughout, Travellers never does anything innovative until the last reel, where a brutal fist-fight truly lifts it above mediocrity into a decent and compelling watch.

Occasionally the acting fails to convince – the relationship between Lucy (Celia Muir) and Dan (Edwards) seems forced and the campfire chat about misspent youths rings entirely false. Yet these moments are rare, and the acting is mostly good quality.

The most convincing performances come from Tom Geoffrey and Dean S. Jagger, perfectly cast as sociopath Andy and travelling fighter Martin. Their performances lift every scene, with both men bringing a strong sense of danger and fragility to the roles, in very different ways. There is also a studied and solid performance from Shane Sweeney as Chris Hughes, who takes an almighty beating and is perhaps one of the only sympathetic characters in the piece.

There are quality elements in Travellers that stop it from simply being an amateurish affair throughout. It is excellently directed by Kris McManus, with some superb shots, and the latter half’s overwrought feeling of panic is perfectly created. If McManus had better equipment this could have looked amazing, but instead looks very low-budget despite McManus’s distinct style. The score is also superb, and the film would be much worse off without it. The original music was created by Adam Langston, Dicken Marshall & Jim Mortimer and whoever is responsible for the sweeping scores should be incredibly proud – subtle, moving and deftly crafted.

Overall Travellers is a mixed bag. The beginning is very weak but the latter half is compelling, the acting is great in places but cripplingly poor in others, the score is fantastic but sounds slightly cheap and McManus’s direction is quality even though his writing fails to convince. One to avoid if you literally cannot cope with low-budget films, Travellers is certainly worth watching otherwise, and for a number of very good reasons. Decent work.

Rating: ★★★★½☆☆☆☆☆

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