Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Lonely Place to Die

Julian Gilbey was behind 2007’s ‘Rise of the Footsoldier’ – a film so mired in trite hooliganism clichés and dodgy Lahdan accents that it made ‘Green Street’ look like ‘La Regle du Jour’ – and thus I approached his latest outing, ‘A Lonely Place to Die’ with some trepidation. Without leading lady Melissa George and the harsh beauty of the Scottish highlands, I might easily have given it a miss.

The five minute pre-credits sequence – all swirling camerawork and vertiginous tension on a mountainside – implied that here was a much better film entirely. Certainly a film that was obviously putting every penny of its £4million budget right up there onscreen. The sequence introduces us to mountaineers Alison (Melissa George), Ed (Ed Speelers) and Rob (Alec Newman); Alison and Rob seem to be the methodical professionals, while Ed’s lackadaisical attitude exacerbates an accident that almost gets him killed. This earns him a bollocking from Alison, who tells him he needs to raise his game.

Decent opener, characters established reasonably well. The next 10 or 15 minutes, which fleshes out the group to include romantically involved couple Alex (Gary Sweeney) and Jenny (Kate Magowan), is less impressive, all filmscript 101 bickering dialogue and dodgy accents. (Melissa George is a big fave here at The Agitation of the Mind, but her inexplicable stab at a Cock-er-nee accent – which she makes no attempt to reprise elsewhere in the movie – is hideous.)

When the group head out to tackle the next peak, though, things hot up. The discovery, in the foothills, of a young Serbian girl buried alive in the wilderness, a single plastic bottle of water and an air tube her only means of survival, throws our heroes into turmoil. With the girl clearly unable to hike all the way back to the cottage they’re staying at – a cottage, moreover, without a phone (mobiles? ‘A Lonely Place to Die’ gives us probably the most realistic “no signal” moment in a modern film: the characters basically go “nah, we’re in the highlands” and don’t even bother to check) – the group split in two. Alison and Rob tackle a vertical cliff face from which it’s only a few miles to the nearest town, while the others continue along the originally planned course with the girl. The plan is to have them picked up by a search and rescue team.

The plan goes awry very quickly, with the mountaineers caught between two armed, dangerous and not-particularly-bothered-about-bystanders groups: the kidnappers who are demanding a large payoff for the girl’s return, and the private security outfit hired by the girl’s father to get her back with extreme prejudice.

From here until about the one hour mark, ‘A Lonely Place to Die’ establishes itself as a bloody good thriller: tense, pacy, light on exposition (Gilbey, who co-wrote the script, mainly trusts to his audience to work out the character interrelationships) and heavy on suspense. He also monkeys with audience expectations to notable effect, particularly a nastily claustrophobic moment that could be a flashforward, a dream or a visual metaphor to a character’s state of mind.

Hokeyness is never far away, though. Kidnappers and security team alike vacillate wildly between being crack marksmen and missing every fucking target they shoot at according to the script’s dictates of whether they’re drawing a bead on a secondary character or the final girl. (Sorry if that was a spoiler, but it’s kind of obvious: name above the title; only cast member you’ve ever heard of.)

Still, while the action remains in the forests and on the cliff faces, ‘A Lonely Place to Die’ scores highly and Ali Asad’s cinematography is spot on. It’s when Gilbey moves the action into a small town hosting some kind of bizarre street party, throwing together all the principles in a mishmash of double-crossing and orgiastic gunplay, that things go tits up in quite spectacular fashion.

The last thirty minutes are basically a horrible conflation of ‘The Wicker Man’, ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ and ‘Ransom’, with the machinations surrounding the ransom demand devolving into such lunacy than you’d be forgiven for expecting the imminent appearance of the Dude Lebowski and some German nihilists with a marmot on a leash. That at least would have given the movie a memorable bonkers ending, not the tired and generic one it eventually huffs its way towards.


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