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Lonely Place to Die, A
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by Jay Seaver

"The very definition of a cliffhanger."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There is a certain joy to a move that takes the word "cliffhanger" literally, as "A Lonely Place to Die" does in its very first scene. Director Julian Gilbey will go back to this well another time or two as the movie goes on, at which point it is clear that this isn't going to be the sort of breezy, winking adventure often associated with the word, but a hard-edged thriller with a mean streak, one looking to augment its vertigo-inducing thrills with other forms of terror.

The climbers in the opening scene are Rob (Alec Newman) and Alison (Melissa George), experienced mountaineers, and the much greener Ed (Ed Speleers). After this bit of danger is past, they meet up with friends Alex (Garry Sweeney) and Jenny (Kate Magowan), a married couple on their first vacation since their daughter was born. They've got an ambitious outing planned, but things change when, while hiking to the peak they intend to attack, they hear a girl's voice and find Anna (Holly Boyd) buried under the ground in a box with a breathing tube. Anna speaks no English and thus cannot tell them what exactly is going on, but this group is smart enough not to stick around. They head toward the nearest village, the bulk following a ridge while Rob and Alison plan to take the direct route, cutting twelve miles from their trip by climbing down the well-named "Devil's Drop" in the hope that the police rescue choppers will be able to follow the others' path before Anna's kidnapper's find them.

It is, from the start, a desperate plan, easily recognized as such before we get a direct look at what nasty pieces of work the kidnappers are. Granted, we can deduce this right from the start just by considering how callous and efficient their means of holding Anna is, but that's just an example of how Gilbey and his brother/co-writer Will choose to roll: This isn't a movie where the audience is lulled into a false sense of security only to have the rug pulled out from under them; this is a movie where things are established as difficult and then get pushed right up to (and sometimes beyond) unfair.

Gilbey doesn't cheat the audience, though. The scenes of action and suspense set on and around the sides of cliffs are staged and shot remarkably well, with cameras stuck in what seem like impossible positions, doubles avoided except when absolutely necessary, harrowing point-of-view shots, and enough knowledge of the mechanics of the activity to make things that the audience may take for granted, like relatively small falling rocks, a genuine threat. The filmmakers make absolutely excellent work of terrain; from the contour-map big picture that splits the party, to how exposed the characters are in an open area, to just how close and far away every craggy handhold might be, every bit of peril has been measured and set before the audience, putting the situation within their grasp and the danger much more immediate.

It does, perhaps, become a bit much toward the end - without spoiling anything, Anna's disappearance has hardly gone unnoticed, which allows a set of characters who have been lurking in the margins to take a more central part. By this time, though, we're too attached to the main groups of predators and prey to have quite the same enthusiasm for a new group being injected into the mix. The environment is also changed up a bit, and while Gilbey handles it well, it's not quite what the audience had come for and what excited them up until that point.

The cast does their part as well, even as they spend a good deal of time on the run. First-billed Melissa George's Alison at least starts off as a bit more focused and even harsher than is typical for the female lead in this sort of movie; she's the one who can make her boyfriend Ed feel small and less capable. Speelers, meanwhile, does nice in signalling that Ed is the group's outsider, even without any sort of posturing between him and Alec Newman's composed and capable Rob. Garry Sweeney and Kate Magowan, meanwhile, play off each other nicely, with Magowan's warm maternal presence also making a good match for Holly Boyd's perfectly terrified Anna. And, on the other side, there are a handful of excellent villains, with Sean Harris being particularly effective.

He doesn't mess around, and neither does the movie in general - it hits hard and fast, but always has its eyes clearly on the characters and what they can do, making for a frequently riveting thriller.

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originally posted: 07/20/11 01:18:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Actionfest 2011 For more in the Actionfest 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2011 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 47th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 47th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/16/14 Langano Flawed but still a decent thriller. 3 stars
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  DVD: 20-Mar-2012

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Directed by
  Julian Gilbey

Written by
  Julian Gilbey
  Will Gilbey

  Melissa George
  Ed Speleers
  Eamonn Walker
  Sean Harris
  Alec Newman
  Karel Roden

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