The wonder of discovery turns to unbridled fear in Andrew Cumming’s ferocious, blood-soaked horror film, The Origin.
At the very beginning of The Origin – and by default in the very early moments of human evolution – a single flame flickers in the darkness. Everything is quiet aside from the eerie wind rippling across the vastness of this undiscovered land. Around the fire sit a small group of disparate homo sapiens, who are making their first incursions into the land of Neanderthals. The elder of the group tells a tale that encapsulates The Origin succinctly: a group of explorers find a world full of opportunity, but the threat of the unknown threatens their very survival. Thrilling and terrifying in equal measure whilst also respectfully borrowing from standout horrors such as The Blair Witch Project and The Descent, Cumming’s feature film debut is a propulsive journey back to the very inception of our existence.
The setting is The Old Stone Age, approximately 45,000 years ago. Very quickly, a mysterious, faceless, perhaps even formless malevolence begins to hunt our weary travellers, the flicker of their campfire the only solace they seem to have when night-time hits. Cumming very quickly harnesses the darkness as his main source of terror; just like The Blair Witch Project (1999), much of the horror of The Origin comes not from what you can see, but what you think you might be able to. In both films, your mind will be frantically questioning if that flicker of movement was in fact anything at all, or if that vague object is an enemy or just a rock.
Slick camerawork heightens the characters’ fear, with swift pans creating frenzied panic as they search for their stalker(s) in the pitch black. Cumming makes us feel as lost in the darkness as the characters do, and every creak, every rustle instils an uncontrollable dread within. The Origin might not have the same fear factor as this late 90s found footage classic, but its utilisation of darkness is still impressive. The sequencing can start to feel repetitive – there are too many moments of a panicked, wide-eyed character, weapon in hand, futilely scanning their surroundings – but Cumming’s ability to quicken the pace with action, and in turn slow it down again, keeps The Origin feeling fresh.
When the action does pick up and this stalking entity makes contact with the homo sapiens, The Origin soars with a bloody, brutal, propulsive energy. There are enough squeamish moments here to satisfy the bravest horror fans, whilst the being that preys on this group is shown just enough, and never too much so as to lessen its scare factor. The Origin’s action is driven by an original score of booming drumbeats and deafening horns from Adam Janota Bzowski (Saint Maud), which is sometimes overpowering but more often than not highly effective in stretching the survivalist stakes of the film. Cumming almost seems like he’s toying with the audience, both in The Origin’s action-packed moments and quieter, dread-laden scenarios; we are made to feel like the prey just as much as the terrorised band of homo sapiens.
A thinly formed narrative with a lack of context and explanation dilutes the world somewhat, but The Origin remains drenched in an ancient and magical authenticity. The characters are muddy, bloody, and exhausted, sinking to the darkest recesses of humanity in this savage world. With such an important basis in history, The Origin feels as if it could have pushed this world even further, whilst its themes are fascinating but touched upon too briefly. Despite this, a fiery, cave-based finale with excellent lighting and severe violence in the mould of The Descent (2005) bludgeons The Origin out of its brief narrative lull, and the film’s bleak but strangely hopeful conclusion enforces its gritty tale forged out of paranoia, distrust, and violence.
The Origin premiered at the 2022 BFI London Film Festival on October 6, 2022. Read our list of films to watch at the London Film Festival this year.