Horror fans are really being treated in 2022. Smile was much better than anticipated, Bodies Bodies Bodies remains a wildly original take on the slasher genre and Barbarian still has me scratching my head in amazement and shock.
Yet, The Origin might just be my new personal favourite horror of the year. Andrew Cumming’s film feels familiar in its’ set-up, but it’s almost unbearably tense and includes some wonderful gore. Its last moments are surprising, but Cumming never relies on cheap twists to leave an impression on his audience. This is a true masterclass in effective, brilliant genre filmmaking.
The story follows a small band of early humans who are looking for a new home. They’re struggling to find food and their spirits are down. When something monstrous starts stalking them at night, they’re forced to face horrors like they’ve never faced before.
The Origin is a minimalist film that still manages to make the absolute most of its premise. Cumming’s vision is singular and strong; this is a film full of style and the restrained use of light creates a terrifying, almost oppressive atmosphere that’s impossible to escape.
The cast is made up of mostly unknown actors, but they’re all fiercely committed to their roles. Chuku Modu is appropriately tough as the leader of the group and portrays a level of machismo that has a tendency of making things worse rather than better, but in the end, it’s all about Safia Oakley-Green’s Beyah, our heroine of sorts.
Beyah has just come on her first period and the others come to the conclusion that the beast must be attracted to the smell of blood she’s unwillingly emitting. She’s already an outsider, a stray that is grateful for every day she’s not banished from their little family. The pregnant Ave (Iola Evans) says she’s scared her unborn child is a girl, which means she’ll have to earn her place in the tribe, whereas a boy is instantly welcome.
Clearly, Cumming has a lot to say about gender. There is a lot of overlap and similarities between his film and Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey; both films explore what it means to be a woman in a pre-historic world that heavily favours men and is run by men. Both also feature a fierce female protagonist, but where Amber Midthunder’s Naru was a straightforward heroine with a strong moral compass, Beyah is a more complex, darker character.
The characters speak in a completely fictional language created for the film. It at times sounds like it has hints of a Scandinavian language, giving it an aura of familiarity. But Cumming mostly communicates his story visually; Ben Fordesman’s cinematography is impressive and thrilling. The creature itself is mostly heard, not seen. We see just enough to keep us intrigued and the final revelation is as shocking as it is surprising.
The film’s biggest flaw is how it sometimes feels like it’s so inspired by films that came before that it almost neglects to create a distinct identity of its own. While it’s visually thrilling, I kept thinking of other films; Prey, The Northman, It Comes At Night to name a few. The Origin often feels like a film that was designed to be an A24 film, a branded piece of storytelling. The Origin still works wonderfully; this is a genuine scary survival horror, with meaty themes that stick with you long after the credits. The ending might prove frustrating for some, but that’s exactly where its brilliance lies.
The story and characters are simple, but compelling. If this is the direction where British independent genre cinema is moving towards, we should be very satisfied and excited indeed.
The Origin has its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on October 6.