For Those In Peril

For Those In Peril

****1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

There was an accident. One of those fishing village tragedies, a boat alone in the sea, a boat alone and gone in the sea, a survivor alone returned. "Six went away and only one came home". His name is Aaron, and he is... unwell.

His mother told him a story. He and his brother, his brother one of those lost to the sea. The story is of a town cursed, a town like theirs, a curse like theirs. It's a simple story, the story. "Only if the devil was caught would things go back to the way they had been before". Aaron clutches to the story like a man who should have drowned, but it becomes clear that it is not enough to keep him afloat.

This is Paul Wright's debut feature, part of the low budget Scottish film initiative. It is modest in scale, but not in scope - it roams the village with Aaron, the undrowned, the undead, the unquiet, the unsettling. It touches on Wright's particular hallmarks visible in his previous shorts: families, but not happy ones; communities, but not happy ones; fairy tales, but not happy ones. Allegory masked as verité, madness masked as myth, moments of power and heartbreak, formulations akin to found footage, stories that feel old. Not hackneyed-reproduction old, Hollywood lockstep Campbellian hero-journey old, old proper old, lacunae on a sheepskin old, poisoned manuscript old - fishermen's wives' tales old. Old, like the sea.

The sea does not care. To the community he is a wound unhealed, an ambulatory reminder of grief, a man made memento mori. To his mother he is a son.

George MacKay is Aaron. You'll see him in Private Peaceful later this year, and in the film version of Proclaimers-based stage-thing Sunshine On Leith, but ignore that. Here he is Aaron: haunted and mumbling, desperate and stumbling, trauma that talks, shell-shocked, land-locked - they weren't eager to have him on the boats before.

Kate Dickie is his mother - she was in Prometheus and is in Game of Thrones but more importantly was Wright's first short, Believe, and is now in his first feature. She's great. Stunning, stunned - she had two sons on that boat, and Michael didn't come home. Wright has made four films and all have parents, children, and half have Kate, and there's a reason. There aren't quite the words to describe her turn at the karaoke - rather, they're there, they just won't come out.

Nicola Burley and Michael Smiley both provide strong supporting turns, as Michael's fiancee and her father. Burley's care and caution around the damaged Aaron are marked, but Smiley brings a palpable and immediate menace that sits well within the film.

Erik Enocksson's score, Benjamin Kracun's cinematography, the performances, the script, direction, all of it, all of it (to mix metaphors) has Aaron and the film walking a line between, let's call them waving and drowning. The sea rises, the sea falls, the arm moves, the hand is commanded, and there is an answer. Call it waving or drowning. The sea does not care, it just waves, drowns.

Now this is where I am torn. I loved Until The River Runs Red, it was brave and bold and Biblical, and while I really liked Photos Of God it was clear that Wright has got techniques, tricks, even habits. There are masks, changes of media, changes of tone, intergenerational familial relationships that have strayed from kilter. These are all in For Those In Peril, even the way the title plays into the film is shared, but even though River won a BAFTA odds are you didn't see it, so these will be new to you in this combination. They are not bad, far from it, this is great. This is his style, these are his notes, these are the elements that inform the alchemy of his talent - but had I my druthers I would make two little cuts, add perhaps one little moment of colour and texture earlier, and then I would be finding rooftops. I say this because I am a fan of uncertainty, as a principle, sometimes it is a drowning and sometimes it is a wave. Until it is seen it is both. You should still see it, I still advise and insist that you do, but to my eye - and this is my opinion - it falls just shy of a state of perfection I believe Wright can achieve. Just shy is still amazing, this film will rightly make waves, pull you in, under, but certainly, with certainty, where perhaps another waver would have indicated something more than magic.

Reviewed on: 10 Jul 2013
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The lone survivor of a shipwreck, blamed for it for superstitious reasons, refuses to believe his fellow sailors are dead and sets out to find them.
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Director: Paul Wright

Writer: Paul Wright

Starring: George MacKay, Kate Dickie, Brian McCardie, Conor McCarron

Year: 2013

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: UK


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