In Review

Film review: The Hermit of Treig

Touching documentary about a life in the wild

The “hermit of Treig”, Ken Smith, has spent 40 years living alone by a loch in the Highlands in a cabin he built himself, said Phuong Le in The Guardian. This “tender” film tells his story, depicting him not as an “eccentric recluse”, but as a “gentle soul with a moving appreciation” for the natural world. Surviving in the wild, miles from the nearest road and with no electricity, turns out to be hard work: Smith catches fish, forages for food and chops his own wood – “no small feat for a man who is now in his 70s”. When he has a health crisis, however, the film’s soundscape of “babbling brooks and rustling trees” is replaced by the whirring of helicopter blades and the focus turns to how much longer he can survive off-grid. Nevertheless, debut director Lizzie MacKenzie’s film is a paean to the “simplicities of life” that feels “especially poignant in our hyper-connected time”. 

With his “bright, bird-like eyes, untamed thicket of beard and boots that peel from his feet like banana skins”, Smith was always going to be a “fascinating subject”, said Wendy Ide in The Observer. This “lovely, compassionate” film also reveals that he is a man of genuine talent: a writer, as well as a “glorious” photographer, whose thousands of nature pictures, some of which appear here, throb “with life and love”. MacKenzie spent seven years getting to know Smith before he let her start filming, said Alistair Harkness in The Scotsman, and “that shows in the lovely bond that emerges as she gently draws out his life story, while probing him about the challenges he faces” in the wild. The result is an “illuminating picture of what makes a fulfilling life”.

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