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Non-Review Review: A Lonely Place to Die

A Lonely Place to Die is a well-made little film. Barring a few minor (and one major) faults, it’s an innovative little film that makes the most of a beautiful setting and a wonderfully quirky supporting cast to offer a thriller that feels genuinely original. It’s a movie that takes a rather clever high concept, and does as much with it as it as it can, without ever stretching itself too thin. As far as autumn thrillers go, it’s worth a look for those who like something just a bit outside the norm.

If you go down to the woods today...

Director Julian Gilbey actually has a wonderful eye for natural beauty. There are several stunning shots in the film that manage to perfectly capture the harrowing and dangerous beauty of the Scottish mountains, putting our human protagonists in scale for the audience. There are a whole host of impressive shots and compositions throughout the film (a flock of birds flying over a sniper’s vantage point, for example) that demonstrate the director knows what he’s doing. He creates a true sense of isolation to the wilderness he presents, and one that doesn’t feel staged or forced or self-conscious. It takes a lot of skill to capture that on film, without seeming excessive, or without removing the natural beauty of it all, and it’s to his credit that he does this so effectively.

On the other hand, his skill is undermined by the frequent use of sped-up or slowed-down film. The footage of characters, usually pretty doomed, is produced in slow motion so often that it loses a lot of impact – which is a shame. At one point, a character notes that it would take thirty seconds to hit the ground from the peak of Everest, and I think Gilbey might be attempting to capture that. The problem is that it only really works once or twice – relying on slow motion reduces a lot of the power of those shots. Similarly, the climax features far too many quick cuts, and the sped-up fire effects feel a little bit hackneyed and almost surreal – they make the scene somewhat less threatening than it would be at regular speed.

Come to Scotland, see the sights!

These are just minor bumps in the road. The core concept is actually wonderfully smart, with a bunch of mountain climbers stumbling across a strange box in the middle of the Scottish wilderness. Of course, the contents of the box are alarming, and they find themselves chased by those who want to hold on to it. I won’t spoil too much, because it’s a clever idea, and one that works really well – it’s a nice hook into the film, and one the movie doesn’t waste too much time establishing. Even the mandatory team bonding sessions seem to be handled with well-considered brevity.

That’s handy, because there are some great actors in the cast, who are able to establish just enough character to keep the audience interested without hijacking the film. Alec Newman is an actor I honestly thought would be much bigger than he ended up, and he’s solid in a relatively small supporting role. Sean Harris makes a wonderfully menacing villain, understated and effective – he fits the film remarkably well, and conveys a powerful sense that dread that would be lost in a more showy performance (or a more explicitly-written role). Eamonn Walker is a treat to see in any form, as is Karel Roden. There’s a nice little scene – perhaps the best scene in the entire film – that is made entirely by the contrasting performances of Roden and Harris.

Her bark's worse than her bite...

However, there’s a pretty major flaw with the film right here. Melissa George is not a leading lady. She can’t act. The movie doesn’t really demand a lot from an actor in terms of dialogue, but I found myself wincing every time her character opened her mouth. More than that, the script calls for George to have chemistry with a much younger character who can’t speak English – putting all the weight on George to carry that relationship and, thus, the film. George, to be entirely honest, simply isn’t up to the task. It’s not a role that requires a stellar performance, but George is simply a poor chouse for what isn’t a demanding role – without meaning to cause insult, Rhona Mitra would have done a better job sleepwalking through the film. This is a serious problem for the film, because – despite how well-made it might be – the lead actress is terrible.

Still, there’s more than enough here to recommend it. The ending is just a bit muddled, with perhaps too many characters thrown into conflict too quickly, but it’s all handled as well as possible by Gilbey. The concept is clever, and the execution for the most part is superb. The problem is that the film places too much weight on Melissa George, an actress who can’t seem to shoulder it. Still, if you can look past that, it’s a well-made and clever little thriller, with beautiful cinematography and a rather nice central idea.

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