(apologies for our late review, the press screenings for this movie were never kind to our schedules but Shaun Munro volunteered to pay to see the film over the weekend)
Though the British cinema scene is frequently commended for its witty comedies made on low budgets, we tend to struggle in more action-reliant genres such as horrors and thrillers, given the usually higher costs required to give them adequate polish. A Lonely Place to Die, the latest film from Rise of the Footsoldier director Julian Gilbey, does with a $4m budget what countless Hollywood thrillers with a ten-fold budget can’t – generate palpable suspense intertwined with intelligent action and believable characters.
Beginning without too much of a preamble, the film swiftly introduces us to a group of mountain climbers trekking in the Scottish Highlands; enthusiastic but sensible intermediate Alison (Melissa George), level-headed expert Rob (Alec Newman), and whiny novice Ed (Ed Speelers). After an accident while climbing, which miraculously ends without any serious injuries, they retire to their accommodation for the night, where they meet their other friends, Alex (Garry Sweeney) and Jenny (Kate Magowan), and prepare to set out together the next day. While venturing out, they hear noises which appear to be the cries of a young girl, emanating from an air pipe sticking out of the ground, and upon digging and recovering her, they open up a violent can of worms which sees them being pursued by a duo of savage kidnappers intent on recovering the child.
The great attraction of these wilderness thrillers most of the time is how easily they can take advantage of Mother Nature’s savage beauty at minimal expense, and while director Gilbey unquestionably makes the most of the treacherous Scottish backdrop, it would mean little without a potent marriage of strong visuals, a punchy script and believable performances, all of which the film fortunately boasts. It goes without saying that an entire film could – and has many times over – been made of the battle between man and nature, yet that quandary comprises only half of this film’s chilling equation. Early scenes see part of the group – at this point split into two – abseiling down a suicidal cliff face, as jagged rocks hurtle towards them at breakneck speeds, concluding, as expected, with brutal consequences.
Hiding behind this survivalist agenda, however, is the more tricky component to pull off convincingly – the human antagonists – and while Gilbey seems to play his hand too early with the big reveal half-way, it ultimately works as it serves a much bigger master as the film transforms into something very different in its second half. While it’s a touch tiresome that the assailants have the dreadful aim of a Moore-era Bond henchman, their dogged pursuit of the protagonists is captured with whip-crack pace by Gilbey, accompanied by an intensity-bolstering score from Michael Richard Plowman. While the body count is expected and we know who will survive from the start, Gilbey fuses the relentless running and gunning with some genuinely thought-provoking moral questions; after all, is saving the life of one little girl really worth the lives of several people? It’s a genuinely taxing question and one which made me resolve that these characters were better people than I for their concerted efforts.
Admittedly the film gives way to some contrivances in the loopy third act, which abandons the wilderness aspect entirely, and it’s almost too much, if only the film slowed down enough for you to notice. Only in retrospect does it really seem ridiculous, but the film does a stellar enough job at maintaining a taut line of suspense and making us care about the characters that its preposterousness doesn’t matter all that much, and to discuss it at any length is to miss the point somewhat. Melissa George’s Scottish accent is absolutely dreadful, but the smart script and wince-inducing action make it hard to notice or care all that much.
A Lonely Place to Die is in theatres now.