Fantastic Fest Review: Julian Gilbey's Thriller 'A Lonely Place to Die'
by Jeremy Kirk
September 24, 2011
A group of mountaineering friends come across an awful discovery, a young girl buried in the ground with only bottled water and a breathing tube for air, high up in the Scottish Highlands. As human sympathy naturally kicks in, they take the girl with them hoping to get her safe off the mountain. However her captors soon return, and a chase begins. This simple premise is what sets up Julian Gilbey's A Lonely Place to Die, a taut and engaging idea that sadly ends up creating too many forks in its own road. The idea, the intensity, of having to traverse a mountainous area with a little girl in tow would be thrilling enough. Add in a chase for survival from a couple of sadistic kidnappers who will do anything to get the girl back only adds to the suspense.
The early moments of A Lonely Place to Die will keep you riveted, particularly the mountain climbing sequences. Gilbey sets in a nice attention to detail without blaring this fact in your face. Everything comes across natural for these climbers, so when you notice them terrified at what is occurring, when they begin to lose it hanging from the side of a cliff, you know it can't be good.
But Gilbey doesn't let the film settle in at this even pace. There's a point where the story and melodramatic score - not to mention a score so on the nose it could be considered a punch in the face - make the proceedings begin to feel like a slog instead of a flow. It isn't that Gilbey filters in a wide assortment of subplots throughout, but once we divert from the group of mountaineers to anyone else, you begin to lose that forward momentum that holds your attention level tight in its intense grip. It's also at the point where the remaining survivors and the girl find their way to a nearby village when the elevated - both literally and figuratively - intensity subsides.
Gilbey crafts well-developed characters. Filled with confident acting by the likes of Melissa George and Ed Speleers, the characters are anything but a problem. In fact, quite the contrary. It's the characters who keep the last third of A Lonely Place to Die from tripping all the way down its own mountain. When they die, it's felt, and there are sincere moments of reflection on what these friends have done. A question of morality, a notion that by helping this young girl they've actually doomed her and themselves, comes up, and it doesn't just lay there. You think about this through the last act of the film, when nameless and faceless extras are getting caught in the cross-fire of all that has built up to that point. Sadly, though, it's also here where Gilbey forces in random shots of the village's fire festival. While editing between shots of a sniper on a rooftop, character running from bullets, and naked women writhing in the streets while flames dance around them seems interesting in execution, it adds absolutely nothing to the final product.
But George should be pointed out from the rest of the cast as the force behind much of the film's more harrowing moments. No stranger to these gripping thrillers, not to even mention being no stranger to these motherly figures in said gripping thrillers, she leaps, runs, and scales the landscape of Gilbey's screenplay with strength. The quieter moments of the film are hers, and she grasps them bringing her character to even more powerful life.
The film could also benefit from some trimming. An early diversion from the core group, actually the first diversion of the film, unnecessarily swerves the audience's expectations. Keeping it a stripped down thriller would have aided the film in being one of the more intense recent thrillers. Gilbey's own diversion with a third side to this hunter/hunted coin stifles the suspense and slows the story for the sake of exposition more than it should. The potential for something forceful and compact is there, probably the reason why Gilbey's ambition to show something grander causes for such a let-down. A Lonely Place to Die could have been a rigid and breathtaking hill, but instead becomes a knotty yet decent mountain.
Jeremy's Fantastic Fest Rating: 6.5 out of 10