The 6th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, 8 Nights of Horror, Sci-Fi, Action, and Cult Movies runs Oct 20-27, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For complete festival info visit www.torontoafterdark.com.
A Lonely Place to Die was one of my picks for Toronto After Dark 2011. Why? Glowingly positive reviews across the board (as far as I’ve seen), a beautiful filming location, and purportedly non-stop thrills. I was disappointed to overhear a couple of conversations from people who were not as excited as I was for this one. The first was in line earlier in the week, when a woman was advising her friend not to see this film as the main character spends two hours hanging from the side of a mountain. After watching the film, I can say that she obtained this synopsis of Open Water-on-a-mountain from the recesses of her own imagination. The film is nothing like what she described. The second conversation took place after the film. A man was telling his friend that he heard the movie was supposed to be thrilling, but he wasn’t very impressed. I have some questions for this viewer. Were you facing towards or away from the screen? Were you wearing a sensory deprivation helmet during the movie? The film had a good turn out, but as far as I could tell, it was not a sell out. It should have been. A Lonely Place to Die is a beautifully shot and carefully scripted taut thriller that delivers in spades.
The short before the feature was Jules Saulnier’s The Incident. Too often some writers and filmmakers think that if something is wacky or ridiculous, then it must be funny. However, the right amount of wacky is a very difficult thing to nail down. The Incident delivers just the right dose of ridiculous dialogue and awkward interactions between characters. The short is about The Agent, a man who is captive in a foreign city and must overcome several obstacles in his path in order to save the world. A funny and charismatic performance by lead actor Manuel Sinor cements this one as a real winner.
Back to A Lonely Place to Die.
The story follows a group of friends who meet up at a cabin in the quiet Scottish Highlands, before setting out on a mountain climbing adventure. An initial climbing scare has a couple of the friends a little nervous, but the group is largely undeterred, that is until they hear the voice of a small child emitting from a metal breathing tube that is protruding out of the isolated forest ground. The climbers free a young girl from this man-made burial chamber, unfortunately she cannot speak or understand a word of English. She is clearly the victim of an unconscionable act committed by dangerous people, and in dire need of help. The climber’s decide to take the girl to the closest police station, however do to their location, the trek will be anything but easy. Unbeknownst to the heroes, the perpetrators of the kidnapping are close on their heels. A cat and mouse game ensues as the climbers try to reach the authorities, while the kidnappers try and reclaim their prize.
A Lonely Place to Die is an absolutely gorgeous film. Mountain vistas and lush forests make up the majority of the setting, while helicopter shots and the rest of the cinematography effectively communicate the always present danger of such an isolated and unforgiving environment. Action films are often completely forgettable because of the bland environments of cities, warehouses, banks, etc. This is not the case with A Lonely Place, as the Gilbey brothers (Julian directs, writes, and edits, while Will writes, edits, and directs the second unit) have given viewers some incredibly fresh visuals, in the form of the Scottish Highlands.
Julian expertly directs the action on screen. Clever cinematography leading up to climatic moments often hints at possible danger, but that nature of the danger is not evident until it is too late. Viewers will never feel like any of the characters are safe from the kidnappers. Julian also gets some excellent performances from his cast, particularly Melissa George as Alison and Ed Speleers as Ed, who are an ease to become attached to and cheer for. Also of note is the performance turned in by Sean Harris as the lead villain. Harris is creepy, callous, and at times doesn’t seem fully human.
The script by Gilbey brothers deserves just as much attention as Julian’s direction. The script is perfectly paced, the decisions made by the characters seem natural, and the action does not require the viewer to suspend their disbelief to enjoy the film (often a necessity in the action genre). My only criticism of the writing is a bit of unnecessary dialogue in which Alison states what she is thinking, for the benefit of the audience. This line reminded me that I was watching a movie and took me out of the action for a moment. However, this is only a minor complaint.
The TAD team programmed a thrilling experience with A Lonely Place to Die. Fast-paced action, adrenaline pumping thrills, and some unsettling horror elements make this film a pleasure to watch. With the right marketing I expect a lot of success for this one. I also hope we see more from the Gilbey brothers soon enough.