“I think we can only heal if we’re both hurt”
There’s acres of atmosphere in Brad Birch’s Black Mountain – the eerie luminosity of Peter Small’s lighting piercing the dark and bursts of Dominic Kennedy’s sound design curling around unexpected twists and turns. But for all of the creative invention at work here, James Grieve’s production can’t quite cover the feeling of something frustratingly incomplete about the writing, resulting in a hollowness at the heart of this would-be suspenseful thriller.
Part of the Roundabout Plays (with How To Be A Kid and Out of Love), Black Mountain starts off promisingly. We meet Rebecca and Paul as they take up residence in a rural cottage where they’re attempting to work through some problems in their relationship (“I didn’t come on a fucking holiday with you”). Sleeping in separate bedrooms, it is clear there’s something seriously awry here as evidenced by the tension in their every interaction (“you’re saying it with a tone”), even as they’re ostensibly trying to fix things.
It is a tension that soon extends to every part of their trip. Lights are forever flickering, midges won’t stop biting Paul, the shower keeps turning itself on…and Hasan Dixon and Katie Elin-Salt nail the way in which it is often those closest to us who can annoy us the most. But rather than delve into why this pair actually want to stay together (it isn’t abundantly clear…), Birch opts to blend in elements from the world of horror – Stephen King books on the shelf and an axe that goes missing.
Here, Black Mountain feels less successful. With characters whose development is thus interrupted, it becomes hard to truly care whether someone is actually following them, or whether it’s all being imagined by one of them, or whether the deliberately painful removal of a splinter can ever equate a betrayal. Psychologically, it loses something of it surefootedness and the final scene is resultantly as blandly cookie-cutter as they come. Intriguing, yes but suspenseful? I’m not too sure.