– Summary –
Director : Julian Gilbey
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Melissa George, Ed Speelers, Eamonn Walker, Sean Harris, Alec Newman, Karel Rodan, Kate Magowen, Stephen McCole, Garry Sweeny.
Approx Running Time : 99 Minutes
Synopsis: Four mountain climbers in Scotland stumble across a girl buried in a box. That’s all you need.
What we think : A pinch of Cliffhanger, a little bit of Ransom, and a whole heap of pretty tense film-making – A Lonely Place To Die delivers a solid, entertaining premise in a tense, exciting way. About the only problem with this film is Melissa George’s accent, but don’t let that hold you back from checking out this unseen gem. A terrific, surprising film.
For those moments you want to become more “outdoors-y”….
I’m not sure which terrifies me more: mountain climbing, Cliffhanger style, or being stuck underground in a box with only a small tube for air to come in. I know, here’s an idea: combine both those elements and make a film about it. A Lonely Place To Die, c-written and directed by Julian Gilbey, is shot in and around the highlands of Scotland, a country we see far too little of in these survival thriller films, and the landscape is truly evocative of the very title of the film. Indeed, the craggy outcrops and vast wilderness are eerily terrifying for somebody afraid of being lost in a place like that. With a premise as simple as it is terrifying, coupled with an unforgiving landscape and some brutal, really scary Bad Guys, A Lonely Place To Die is a surprising tension package that delivers great thrills, some nice death sequences, and some brilliant photography of Scotland.
Warning: No Spoilers Ahead.
What I’d usually do at this juncture of a review is to summarize the plot, mentioning the various cast members and their roles to allow the reader to get a handle on what it is I’m reviewing. Instead, this time, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to give you a one-line summary, and let you go from there. Five cliff-climbers (led by Melissa George) take a break after a day of scaling the Scottish highlands, and stumble upon a young girl buried in a box, with only an air tube to breathe through. Exactly what the young girl is doing out in the distant wilderness (yeah, she’s not going anywhere fast) and what happens when our cliff-climbing heroes pull her out of the hole, is something I’m going to let you discover for yourself. That’s all I want to give you to go on – this is a film best discovered by actually watching it. To say much more would be to spoil the twists, the turns and the red-herrings we’re thrown, in what is a pretty neat little indie film.
A Lonely Place To Die opens with a very sweet Cliffhanger-style climbing sequence, setting up the characters and the locale with a beauty of photography that just boggled my mind. Scotland hasn’t looked this good since Mel Gibson roared his way across it back in 1994, and Gilbey’s framing, camerawork and lush visual landscape style capture the moist, green-hued ridge-lines and cliff faces of the highlands in a way that I’ve not seen before. Considering the film uses the premise of mountaineering as its foundation, it was probably quite important to deliver an opening sequence that didn’t look like they’d shot it in a green screen, so the production went half way up a mountain and shot it for real. In fact, a lot of the mountain sequences in this movie are done “for real”, and this serves as a benchmark for the film’s internal reality. With that grounding, the tension and the brutality of the events that transpire within the narrative are heightened, knowing that people can – and do – die up on the mountains.
The script, which unravels as the film progresses in such a way that you’re not quite sure of what’s happening until the final act – in a good way, mind you; any good mystery needs to unspool slowly, not just blurt out its secrets from the get-go – and then film diverts into territory the opening half never admits to. The action, some of which is quite frenetic, serves the narrative instead of hindering it: there’s plenty of shaky-cam here, but it works for the film instead of against it, heightening the disorientation the characters feel as they’re running, jumping, leaping and escaping through the canyons of Scotland. Gilbey’s hand is sure, his guidance for the viewer is pitch-perfect as he shows us just what we need to see: sometimes the violence of the film is brutal, sometimes it’s off-screen to heighten the moment, but at all times you’re guessing as to what’s going to happen, as you should with any good mystery.
Touching briefly on the script, the writing here is nothing extraordinary. The characters are quite 2-dimensional, really, although the fact that we don’t know much about most of them isn’t a hindrance here. You’ve got Good Guys and Bad Guys, you’ve also got shades of grey (but only a couple, right?) and the dialogue serves as a perfunctory plot mover rather than a character developer. These people aren’t ones we need to know, save that they are driven to their motivations by a variety of reasons which shall, in this instance, remain obscure. The dialogue moves from “let’s climb here” to “what is this girl doing buried in a box” to “we need to escape” material, none of which is enlightening, but it serves the purpose of the movie well enough for that not to matter.
Melissa George, as Alison, is the star of this show, although I think she’s been overshadowed by the appearance of Sean Harris (who played a drug dealer in the Michael Caine flick, Harry Brown, as well as the ill-fated Fiefield in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus) and Stephen McCole (who appeared in Rushmore and The Acid House, among other films) as the villains of the piece. And they play that to the hilt – they’re really nasty. The rest of the cast are pretty much meat for the grinder: a mixture of cannon fodder and cliff-meat, a last-man-standing set of characters who are there to die to motivate Alison to get the little girl to safety. It’s nothing special, but in this instance, it doesn’t need to be.
I’m not going to spoil the film any further for those who haven’t seen it. It’s one of those films that people stumble upon and then tell their friends, asking “how did I miss this?” as they do. Gilbey’s direction, his sense of scale and use of screen menace to deliver the tension the film so brutally engages in, is superb. A Lonely Place To Die is a surprise package of a film, a film with shocks, surprises and a definite vision for the story, and as a genre piece, I cannot recommend it more highly. I really enjoyed this film, and I think you might too.