When I was 10 years old, I wrote a story for school which has become infamous within my family.
It was about a man who was lost in an underground tunnel. It had a lot of setup work about the atmosphere in the tunnel and how the man didn’t know where he was or how he was going to get home.
Then – for reasons I can’t really explain – he stumbles across a Nazi who ends up killing him (or vice verca, I can’t remember).
A Lonely Place to Die reminded me of that story.
It’s a film that starts off being about five recreational Mountain Climbers on holiday in the Highlands of Scotland, threatens to turn into a Scottish version of Deliverance and then becomes a tense and bloody manhunt centred around the kidnapped daughter of a Serbian war criminal.
I know that sometimes film makers like a good swerve, but the mountain climbing element of this film – which is what is marketed on the posters and in the trailer as well – becomes completely redundant after about 20 minutes. Those first 20 minutes are all about the struggles of climbing up sheer cliff faces (which incidentally made me ask myself “Who the hell would want to do that”) but then the main body of the film seems to be more about hillwalking. When the proper plot begins, there’s only one more scene with actual climbing in it, and it’s only in there as a means to kill someone off.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the film is poor. Look at Psycho. The plot of that film completely shifts – and in a far more sudden way than this – and it’s considered a classic.
So what about this film?
Well it’s alright. I enjoyed the manhunt aspect of it, and the guys playing the ‘hunters’ were both very good. Inevitably just by looking at them, they will only ever be able to play creepy people, but what the hell, if they can make a career out of having that sort of appearance then good for them.
One of them in particular – Sean Harris (who was the main villain in the first series of Ashes to Ashes) – is particularly good as a remorseless murderer.
As for the other cast members…well, they aren’t as good. When the best of the bunch is TV Irritant Melissa George – who put on an accent that ranged somewhere between American, Scottish and Irish – then you know the calibre of acting on display. In fairness to her, if it wasn’t for her dreadful attempt at whatever accent she was actually going for, she’d have been pretty good.
The same though cannot be said for Ed Speelers, one of the worst actors I’ve seen in 2011. We’re not even talking Hollyoaks calibre here people. It appears as though the most well known thing he’s appeared in is Echo Beach. Remember that? No? Didn’t think so.
As a sidenote, for a film set in Scotland, there are only three Scottish people with speaking roles in the entire film. A bit odd.
Mind you, it must be written by a Scot because there’s a scene where the one Scot among the climbers gets angry about how a Scottish £10 note is legal tender in England.
Hit & Miss Visuals
One area where the film both succeeds and fails is in the visuals.
There are a series of spectacular falls down mountains, hills and one through the upper story of a house which look terrific and totally believable. There’s also a great scene – from a direction standpoint – where Melissa George is climbing down a rock face and getting rocks thrown at her. It actually made me flinch because it was being done from George’s perspective and looked like the rocks were coming straight at the screen – and for a 2D film, I thought that was quite an achievement.
But while those were great, there were areas where the visuals were a let down. In that scene with the rocks, George takes a great looking fall which results in her supposedly messing up her leg. In the next scene she’s in the other characters say “Look at her leg! It’s a mess”, yet we never see anything wrong with it, and indeed the next time we see her legs, they are covered up by a pair of skin tight mountain climbing tights. She also appears to have no problem running.
There’s a similar scene where Speelers’ character takes a tumble and seems to cut his leg deeply on a branch. I say ‘seems’ because after letting out a massive scream and hearing what sounds like a pretty bad injury, there’s absolutely no followup to this. He’s just running around saying he thinks he broke his leg in the next scene.
I just don’t see the point in drawing attention to these things and then not bothering to follow up on them.
Issues with the Plot (SPOILERS)
Right, I’m going to delve into spoilers here, so highlight the white text below if you want to read it.
Maybe I’m being cynical here, but the one thing I just didn’t get was the way Melissa George’s character steadfastly refused to entertain the notion that they had made the wrong choice rescuing the girl.
There’s a scene late on in the film when three of her friends have already been brutally murdered. Realising the girl has been kidnapped, the only other remaining character says “We should have left her there, she’s not our problem” and he’s quickly told not to be so stupid. What’s stupid about it? The chances are if they’d left her alone then the girl would have been returned to her parents in exchange for the ransom money.
But by interfering, George ends up getting all of her friends murdered along with two policemen, and various people in the village late on. The only person who would never have been killed was the girl, because the kidnappers needed her.
George has a history of playing cold-hearted characters in shows like Alias and Grey’s Anatomy and despite the writers intentions here, it appears she’s doing the same in this film.
There’s also a scene where one of the blokes says “They don’t care about us, they’re only after the girl”, which I thought was going to mean he was going to try and leave the girl. But no, the next scene has him making a run for it while pretending to be carrying the girl in his arms, thus allowing the others to escape. He knows fine he’ll be killed and he is.
The other ridiculous element here is the way one of the kidnappers – Mr McRae – just decides to go on a killing spree in the village with a shotgun late on in the film. There was no reason for it, and I can’t see any plausible reason for a calculating man intent on a career as a serial kidnapper would do something like that.
Similarly, he shoots a guy who has been hired by the girl’s father to find him a good 10 times. The first time he shoots him he drops the guy, then follows in and shoots him a futher 9 times at close range. Clearly, he wants to kill him, so why did he shoot him in the bulletproof vest every time, allowing the victim to be able to call for backup with his last breath. Why do villains never ever aim for the head?!
But I suppose by that point in the film, any sense to the plot had been removed as it built to its climactic finish.
Should You Watch A Lonely Place to Die
The film was ok. Earlier I compared the way the plot changed to Psycho. In many ways this film can be compared to the Hitchcock films. It’s played out in distinct acts, culminating in a frantic ‘set-piece’ finish.
Now no, this film is not a classic like a lot of Hitchcock’s films were, but it was watchable enough, and though it was ridiculous in many ways, it had its good parts.
For the genre that its in, it’s worth a watch.