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Black Samphire: Telling the horror story of river pollution

What better genre to tell the horror story of the national river pollution scandal than folk horror?

Cathy Wippell’s offer to River Action to be Executive Producer on her new film (she wrote it and stars in it too), Black Samphire, was a welcome surprise. She hooked me with her creativity and drive to tell a cautionary environmental story. 

Together we discussed how impossible it is to ignore the news of rising water pollution levels. I recall Cathy, a keen open water swimmer, telling me that nowadays instead of just launching into the water, there are questions of hygiene and health to consider. She said, “That’s one of the horrible things about pollution; it makes people distrust the environment they themselves are destroying.”

And so we signed on and armed with a tiny budget and the creative juices of budding young filmmakers and actors. Black Samphire extracts a chilling tale from the stinking cesspool of our waterways that takes our shared mission to rescue Britain’s rivers to new audiences.

In the film, enveloped by the dark hues and eerie sounds of a ghostly marshland, a couple find themselves drawn to the strange black samphire whose tasty leaves are tinged by the effluent of a local sewage pipe. 

A subtle, unsettling tale of insidious creeping horror unfolds; screaming darkly to an audience forewarned by folklore, and public outcry across the media of failing water companies, greedy multi-national agri-business and captured environmental regulators. While one character, Mari battles with an impatient boss – thank you Stephen Fry for lending your voice – Isla retreats from reality towards an ending of unwitting violence upon the love that sustains her.

The story cleverly mirrors the pernicious demise of the lifeblood of our land, turning healthy vital waterways into poison coursing through our national veins. Alongside Cathy (Mari), Ishtar Currie-Wilson (Isla) leads the tale, bringing her genre presence, crafted in the Netflix hit, Lockwood & Co, and honed in the new Omen prequel about to hit cinemas. 

Noting how much she enjoyed working on Black Samphie, actor Ishtar Currie-Wilson told me, “I think that horror has always been the leading genre in making significant and accessible cultural commentary and with our current climate crisis there has never been a more important time to bring these stories to the big screen. I would expect to see a lot more environmentally focused films within the years to come.” 

These two actors are going somewhere. But what about our rivers? Every single one in Britain is polluted with a toxic cocktail of agricultural run-off, raw sewage, micro-plastics and forever chemicals. By supporting this film, River Action raises the deathly spectre of the collapse of our rivers and wildlife to show viewers that this catastrophe is real and affects us all. From health risks and wildlife depletion to food production and the economy, we all need healthy rivers and abundant clean water.

A thought-provoking new tool in our campaigning box, Black Samphire adds a novel dimension to help take our powerful message to the victims of these crimes; the voting and consuming public, and perpetrators, greedy corporations as well as our failing environmental regulators. In the words of our Vice Chair, Feargal Sharkey, “We have been ripped off for too long. It’s time for urgent regulatory reform and polluting industries to clean up their mess. END RIVER POLLUTION NOW!!”

by CEO of River Action, James Wallace