Saturday, 7 January 2012

A Lonely Place To Die (Julian Gilbey, 2011) DVD Review

The fight for survival begins in A Lonely Place To Die (2011)...

If for no other reason, check out writer/director Julian Gilbey's A Lonely Place To Die for its cracking opening set-piece. Swooping over the Glen Etive peaks, an eagle's P.O.V. establishes three mountaineers isolated in the landscape; Alison (Melissa George), Ed (Ed Speleers) and Rob (Alec Newman). This predator, circling with the mist above, prefigures the mercenaries who will soon be hunting our protagonists through the dense woodland. Ascending up the carnivorous face of Buachaille Etive Mòr, the scene is established like the prelude to a murder, with the amplified clicking and clacking of each piece of equipment - belay, quickdraw, hex - signaling imminent danger, recalling the protracted *shink* of a killer sharpening his blade. Eventually the close-ups become unbearable, and Gilbey lets loose with a gut-punching vertical slip that convincingly imitates your standard mountaineering picture. It's not long, however, until this abrasive group hear a cry for help echoing through the trees, which leads them to a little girl (Anna, played by Holly Boyd) imprisoned underground...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Following the beautiful credits sequence (Scottish folk rhapsody unfurling over shots of the highland) our protagonists make their way to the hideaway home of climbing pals Jenny (Kate Magowan) and Alex (Garry Sweeney). After several rounds of beer and poker they retire to sleep, and a classic horror movie setup gives way to morning, where a more terrifying prospect awaits: Anna. In classic B-movie tradition it's quickly established that Anna is a valuable commodity, being hunted by several parties, and our heroes will become the collateral if they don't act quickly. This delectable setup is given a further twist by the fact that Anna is Russian, and cannot communicate with her rescuers. Alison and Rob decide (unwisely) to scout ahead, rappelling down the appropriately monikered Devil's Drop in order to alert the police.

Over the next thirty minutes Gilbey takes particular pleasure in wrong-footing his audience, especially in a scene with two assassins. These camouflaged roughnecks seem to be scoping out Ed, Jenny and Alex, who are rushing with Anna toward a safer location. Gilbey denies us their perspective; the clichéd down-rifle shot is never employed here, so tension is raised. Soon, however, two leather-jawed gentleman interrupt the killers - one has their throat slit, the other forced into suicide. It turns out that these men are the assassins - the previous suspects were just hunting deer. Soon our characters meet back up, pursued by the snipers whose employer might well be the enigmatic Darko (Karel Roden). The film delights in its own mystery, twisting and turning as Gilbey draws us into yet another action sequence. What's great about the set-pieces here is that they all have a different flavour - one finds our characters descending down the rapids, another fleeing through the woods, and finally fist-fighting in a burning house. Each of them are marked by dynamic camerawork and throbbing sound design which, especially when amplified through 5.1 speakers, really pinned me to my seat.

As suggested by that last paragraph, the film eventually escapes the confines of its initial setting, moving from the woods to a local village, which just happens to be celebrating some kind of pagan underworld festival (the roads are blocked by fire-breathers and tribal belly dancers). Despite moving to a bigger location the film retains its intimacy, keeping up-close on its characters faces during the action. Fireworks mask gunshots as one of the snipers stages an attack on a police station, but the quick-cut sequence is tightly contained. Even when the action spills onto the streets (several innocents are blasted away here, which is perhaps unnecessary) Gilbey keeps the camera trailing behind his protagonists, with the horror inflections delivered by the festival adding yet another flavor to the film's considerable palette. Even in its sillier moments our interest is sustained by the brilliant lead performance, delivered by one of genre cinema's most interesting newcomers - Melissa George. The standout in 2009's Triangle (Christopher Smith), George delivers a compelling turn here; she's the human anchor which lends the action meaning. A Lonely Place To Die doesn't reinvent the wheel, but as stripped-down, low-budget thrillers go, it's one of the most interesting in recent memory. It has a cool 70's vibe, which counts for a lot, but more than that it's just an exciting ride. Seek it out.

The Disc/Extras
Unfortunately I can't speak for the Blu-Ray quality, but the DVD boasts fantastic image and sound - Michael Richard Plowman's score really pulses and booms through the action sequences, and I'm sure that even my neighbors could feel the tension. Extras are also hugely impressive, with a 70-minute Making Of documentary being one of the best I've ever seen. Methodically chronicling the process from pre to post production, this insightful, funny doc clearly demonstrates the effort and passion which is required to make a movie, and should be an essential watch for low-budget filmmakers. It's easy to see why the movie ended up being this good, because the amount of work put in by everyone is just inspiring. Also on the disc there's a smaller, but equally impressive feature called 'The Challenge Of The Alps', showcasing some stunning 1st person climbing footage. An audio commentary only adds to Gilbey's clear enthusiasm for the project, and the package is rounded off by the original UK theatrical trailer.

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