The story of the lost colony of Roanoke is a fascinating one, and I’d definitely recommend people read about it – it’s got Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake swooping in to save people, mysterious local Native tribes, colourful legends and, most famously, the word “Croatoan” carved on a tree stump as the sole message from the missing colonists.
As the title’s a bit of a giveaway, we’re introduced to our wraith friends at the beginning, slaughtering the initial English camp there. Now, it deviates from the “official” history here, as Raleigh really did rescue most of the colonists, but it’s a cool scene so we shouldn’t be bothered. Then, it’s 6 months later, in the middle of 1587, and the largely historical residents of the Lost Colony arrive. Chief among them is Ananias Dare (Adrian Paul), but there’s also his wife Eleanor (Frida Farrell) and oh-my-god-he-was-in-War-of-the-Worlds Rhett Giles as George Howe. Ananias is friends with a local Native called Manteo, and Manteo is full of warnings about the evil spirits who live on the island, but the British need it as a strategic base against the Spanish so they’re obliged to stay.
As is often the case with movies, the wife is the nagging, shrewish anchor who wants no part of any conflict, although in this film she’s got the added bonus of having dreams of the wraiths to give her protestations an extra edge. She’s like Skyler from “Breaking Bad”, a thankless character, and sadly they picked a not-great actress for the part too, so every time she’s on screen it’s a drag. I don’t blame her, really, I just wish women could be given stronger parts in these things.
But she’s really the only weak thing about this movie. Well, the only other thing if you count the bizarre stew of accents on display. The descent of the colony from happiness to misery is really well pulled-off, with crops failing, soldiers getting picked off and the local tribes abandoning them. They retreat and retreat and retreat, and Adrian Paul tries his best to hold them all together. He’s great, by the way, my fandom of “Highlander: The Series” probably helps but he does a top job. It’s also a great example of how to do things right, in the way that so many SyFy Channel films fail at – you need something for all three acts, to keep viewers interested. The middle section of this deepens the characters, shows the effects of the futile attack on the local Croatan tribe, and ratchets up the tension with the wraiths even further, as we discover why they’re so interested in Eleanor and her new baby.
Director Matt Codd seems to be working more as a concept artist for big budget films now, which is a shame as he’s got a great sense of how to keep the pace going throughout- but presumably, his other work pays better. This was writer Rafael Jordan’s first credit, and he’s gone on to write a lot of SyFy Channel movies, including “Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators” and “Stonados”. I’d love to see more films like this from SyFy, serious dramas masquerading as monster movies, or just films with as much thought gone into them as this one did. If they repeat it, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Rating: thumbs up