Eye For Film >> Movies >> A Lonely Place To Die (2011) Film Review
A Lonely Place To Die
Reviewed by: David Graham
British director Julian Gilbey channels his own rock-climbing experience for a white-knuckle wilderness thriller that shifts through several genres at a pace so breathless you can't help but be swept along for the ride. Having made a brutal impression with solid but generic London gangster flick Rise Of The Footsoldier, the young director here takes inspiration from Walter Hill, especially his chase classics The Warriors and Southern Comfort. Initially exploiting our fear of the multitude of accidents that can happen when people choose to take on Mother Nature in her own domain, Gilbey smoothly changes gear while keeping us involved with his characters, managing to transcend the basic cliches of his narrative through sheer steam-rolling momentum.
Hardened climber Alison is tackling some of Northern Scotland's loftiest peaks with her less experienced boyfriend Ed, and growing frustrated with his jeopardizing her ventures through his clumsiness. When her friends Rob, Jenny and Alex join them, the group set off towards the region's most fearsome climb, only accessible by a lengthy trek through the woods. They stumble upon a pipe sticking out the turf, and unearth a kidnapped Serbian girl from a makeshift underground cell. Deciding that two of them should go for help, Alison and Rob take the quickest route - straight down a vertical cliff. Stranded in hostile terrain with a dangerous presence making itself known, the race is on for the group to get the girl and themselves to safety.
In a way reminiscent of Neil Marshall's The Descent, Gilbey wrings maximum tension early on from simple but precarious situations. Bird's eye views emphasize our heroes' insignificance in this awesome and evocatively captured landscape while vertigo-inducing close-ups showcase some nail-biting stunt-work, often performed by the lead actors. This is far removed from the likes of Cliffhanger; the camera lingers on the meticulous process of climbing, giving the scenes an authentic feel of both the buzz the activity would generate and the peril it involves. When accidents happen, they have the terrifying impact of the best slasher films' set-pieces, bringing you to the edge of your seat and keeping you hanging in fear for the characters.
As the film picks up and the pursuit begins, the character dynamics initially established are toyed with to keep you guessing how they'll react under this unexpected pressure and who will make the mistake that might cost them their lives. Several sequences take obvious inspiration from the likes of Deliverance and the aforementioned films, but Gilbey still manages to wrongfoot the audience and keep you guessing as to what will happen next. When the action finally reaches civilization, the festival-beset town proves no safer than the outdoors, the director playing on our paranoia as his characters ponder the full extent of what they are caught up in. It all builds to a convoluted but satisfying climax, the film overstaying its welcome slightly but never slowing down enough to let you come up for air.
Interestingly, Melissa George's lead character initially comes across as something of a sanctimonious cow, with the more naturally maternal Kate MacGowan being the one the little girl gravitates towards. But as George's veneer thaws, so does the audience towards her; placed in ever greater peril, she finds hidden reserves and womanly instincts that keep her one step ahead of her pursuers and inescapably burdened with ensuring her young charge's safety. Gilbey also cunningly deflects any criticisms the audience may have for the rapidly escalating plot by having the characters recognise the ridiculous nature of their actions in dialogue; there is a constant conflict between doing the right thing and saving their necks, keeping the audience engaged by forcing them to ponder what they would do in such morally fraught situations.
It's nothing you haven't seen before, and the acting varies from passable to lousy, but A Lonely Place To Die is a thoroughly thrilling and unpretentious little flick that takes its genre by the scruff of the neck and drags it kicking and screaming through Scotland's menacing undergrowth. With a couple of enjoyably heartless villains in the form of Sean Harris and Stephen McCole and an unflinchingly brutal streak running right to the stunningly dark ending, Gilbey's film is a highly accomplished and entertaining piece of work. It also confirms George as a bona fide kick-ass heroine, her character's exponentially growing emotional investment in events skillfully portrayed even amidst all the climbing, running and screaming. This is one of the most intense British thrillers in some time, and marks Gilbey out as a genuine talent with a bright future ahead.Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2011