A group of friends mountaineering somewhere north of Inverness take a weather enforced break from scaling cliffs to set out on a cross country trek through beautiful but remote landscape. During a refreshment stop, one of the group hears cries coming from nearby woods and discovers a rusty pipe sticking out of the ground. The pipe is a breathing tube and they discover a young girl buried alive. Who could have done such a thing and why? And more worryingly, how will the person or persons responsible react to attempts at a rescue?
It isn’t much of a spoiler to say that the answer to the last question is “not well”.
A Lonely Place to Die is a survivalist thriller pitting a group of normal middle class people against a ruthless foe in an environment that is brutal and unforgiving. Obviously the daddy of such pictures is John Boorman’s Deliverance but Boorman was himself influenced by the tough psychological westerns of Anthony Mann (in particular The Naked Spur). Gilbey’s film, whilst clearly indebted to Deliverance, actually borrows quite a bit from earlier western genre conventions, particularly in its later stages. Western themes such as revenge, private justice overpowering public laws, and the central figure of an innocent requiring salvation from savagery surface.
Gilbey’s film also tips its hat to Neil Marshall’s The Descent and Ted Kotcheff’s First Blood, especially in its approach to action. Gilbey uses a handheld shot-from-the-hip approach during several key chase sequences that is very exciting and fresh and mounts some superb suspense sequences that make full use of the Scottish locations. One climbing sequence in particular is genuinely terrifying to watch. Cinematographer Ali Asad does great work, justifying stretching the budget to some impressive helicopter shots that really establish a strong sense of place and enhance the realism of the film. Unlike a lot of British films A Lonely Place to Die really does bring a cinemascope sense of scale to its vistas.
There is good work too from the film’s cast. Melissa George gives another very strong performance, managing to be tough and vulnerable. Some of her action scenes look genuinely hair raising. Obviously there are stunt performers involved but it was clearly a challenging shoot. Sean Harris makes a considerable impression also. Harris is cornering the UK market in twitchy, unpredictable, borderline psychos at the moment.
Unfortunately in its final third the film takes some plot turns that felt very contrived and let the air out of what had been to that point a very taught and exciting thriller. In the process a solid four star movie becomes a three star one. I can’t get into quite what the issues are here because it’s spoiler territory. Ultimately this is two thirds of a great movie and one third of an okay one, but it certainly marks Gilbey out as a British director with commercial ambitions and some serious skills as a director of suspense.
EXTRAS ★★★ An audio commentary with director Gilbey; a making-of featurette (70); the featurette The Challenge of the Alps (17), in which director Gilbey attempts to climb the Matterhorn and the Eiger mountains.