Directed by Julian Gilbey
A quintet of thrill-seeking mountain climbers enjoying their favourite pastime across treacherous peaks in the Scottish Highlands find their lives in more immediate mortal danger than descending a cliff naturally affords in Julian Gilbey’s high-octane thriller A Lonely Place to Die.
Melissa George heads up the cast as experienced climber Alison, leading an expedition to the aptly titled “Devil’s Drop” with her quarreling group of fellow adrenaline junkies. Stopping for a sandwich break, Alison hears an eerie voice echoing through the trees and, upon further investigation, discovers an air pipe leading into the ground. Forcing open the hidden subterranean chamber, the group uncover a starving and thirsty young Serbian girl, Anna, and set about a plan to return her as quickly as possible to civilisation.
Anna’s captors, however, don’t take long to notice the disappearance of their detainee and, armed with sniper rifles and killer instinct, spark a ruthless chase spanning from the rocky mounts right back into a town enjoying a cultural celebration complete with gunshot-masking fireworks and traditional parades.
Filled with breathtaking natural vistas, A Lonely Place to Die is a triumph of cinematography. The opening scene involving a particularly perilous climb not only looks gorgeous but sets the scene for the nail-biting tension and startling authenticity to follow. A glowing cast keep the proceedings well grounded, but most notable are Sean Harris and Stephen McCole’s villains, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Mcrae. These two international kidnappers are cold, ruthless and outright mean bastards that will stop at nothing to ensure their merchandise is returned and any witness eliminated. Owning the screen any time they appear on it, the pair exude sheer malevolence. As Anna, young actress Holly Boyd plays suitably scared and helpless, but the film never fully manages to elevate her above anything more than a MacGuffin. Gilbey’s choice of ending is also somewhat perplexing, yet in a way admirable — offering a peculiar winding down of proceedings that partly succeeds in its choice of offering a perhaps more grotesquely fitting ending for its prime antagonist than your usual slam-bang action finale.
Violence in A Lonely Place to Die is harsh, impactful and shocking. Stunning sound design ensures that every gunshot can be felt in the gut, and every thud in a tussle feels like a punch in the face. Attention to detail and realistically drawn-out approaches to the climbing scenes ratchet the tension in exponential waves, and when something inevitably goes wrong, the ensuing falls and stark presentation of flesh impacting rock are startlingly effective.
Keeping a thumping pace once the chase begins, it doesn’t feel like long before the action is transplanted to a nearby Scottish town. Here, the plot thickens as mercenaries under employ of Anna’s father also get involved, and the two kidnappers turn their wrath on anyone unlucky enough to get between them and their quarry – the local law enforcement included. Brief introductory first act aside, there’s barely a moment to catch your breath in A Lonely Place to Die, and the constant sense of immediate danger so expertly wrung by Gilbey will keep you on your toes throughout. As with many of its genre, the film does tend to stretch credibility on more than one occasion, but it takes minimal effort to forgive these shortcomings considering the sheer quality of what’s on screen.
It’s doesn’t break any new ground and isn’t strictly a horror film by any means (and therefore a decidedly strange choice of closer for Film4 Frightfest); yet, A Lonely Place to Die remains a thoroughly gripping, expertly crafted and visually sumptuous mix of white-knuckle tension and adrenaline-pumping action. Easily the best thriller of the year, do this film justice and see it on the big screen.
4 out of 5