BBC Radio 4 Extra, 11 December 2011
Dawn King's entertainingly grisly thriller recounted the tale of a young
English couple James (Christopher Webster) and Lou (Kirsty Oswald) who get lost on New Year's Eve in the wilds of rural
New Zealand. They spend the night at a lonely motel, where the owner (Jonathan Forbes) seems outwardly hospitable; but Lou
is convinced that he is prowling outside their door during the night. In the morning the owner refers to a lake nearby,
which he suggests the young couple should try to avoid. Needless to say the couple ignore his advice; Lou in particular is
keen to discover what she perceives as the "real" New Zealand, as opposed to the ersatz sights available in the city. They
meet up with an outwardly friendly local couple Aron (Adam Billington) and Sandy (Clare Corbett), who take them on a boat
trip. However this trip proves the couple's undoing, as they are forced to
participate in a New Year's Day ritual involving the killing of a live pig, and are ultimately eaten alive by insects.
With an obvious acknowledgment to Milton's Paradise Lost, The Beaten
Track offers a cautionary tale for any tourists looking for "something different" during their holidays. The hotel owner's
warning actually means something: the locals do not want their beauty-spots to become corrupted by their presence.
However Lou takes no heed, like Eve in the Garden of Eden, she wants to know more about an alternative way of life. Both she
and James lack cultural sensitivity; Lou thinks that the locals are "a bunch of freaks" living "off the beaten track."
We do not feel sorry for them; as modern-day colonizers, they get what they deserve.
Jeremy Mortimer's production made effective use of sound-effects: the sound of the
screaming pig as it was slaughtered was truly frightening, emphasizing the strangeness of the locals' world (in James' and
Lou's view at least). The sound of insects feasting on human flesh formed a backdrop to the dialogue, and rose to
a crescendo as Lou watched her arms being gradually eaten away. After a few seconds the sound abruptly stopped; and the Man
in Black (Mark Gatiss) described what happened to the couple in soft, menacing tones.
After listening to this tale, I will definitely think twice about travelling
to out-of-the-way rural areas.