Gwen (15)***

Director: William McGregor

Runtime: 84 mins

Stars: Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Maxine Peake, Richard Harrington

In the rugged and bleak landscapes of 19th century Snowdonia, teenaged Gwen (Worthington-Cox) lives on the small family farm with her mother Elen (Peake) and younger sister. It’s a hardscrabble life for Gwen, not helped by a father away at war and a domineering mother with whom she frequently butts heads.

There’s cholera in the valley and suspicion in the town, and it’s all becoming too much for Elen, who begins acting increasingly strangely. Whether the cause of her malaise is down to illness - mental or otherwise - or something more sinister is left for viewers to discover, as animal parts get nailed to doors, sheep turn up dead and potatoes rot in the field.

Is there someone hanging around outside in the dead of night? Who is the well-to-do man that Elen talks with after church? What if anything does all this have to do with the local quarry? Will Peake get away with her accent in front of Welsh audiences?

With a measured build that sets up mysteries all over the place, there is rich potential here, but ultimately this is a film that raises more questions than it answers. A remarkable atmosphere, solid performances and stunning cinematography are its greatest assets, but it offers little in the way of proper dramatic heft, nor does there seem to be anything deeper thematically at play.

In its depiction of period rural hardships playing out against a background of potentially inexplicable goings on, all told in a sombre tone at a stately pace, Gwen is reminiscent of The Witch from a couple of years back. And yet for all its creeping dread, you shouldn’t really mistake it for a horror, even as the building pressure is punctuated by sudden bursts of shock or violence.

With its creaking floors and foreboding shadows, it certainly makes for a spooky watch, and as a portrait of pastoral misery it can be gruelling. When it hits, it hits hard, but unfortunately doesn’t really manage to resolve in a way that is particularly satisfying, despite holding the attention throughout a pleasingly brisk running time.