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A group of climbers have made a grim discovery high up in the mountains. They have found an eight year old girl buried amongst the peaks: buried alive. Terrified, de-hydrated and unable to speak a word of English, she is the victim of an elaborate kidnapping plot.
When you see a film pop up on more than a couple best of the year lists, you can't help but take notice. Such is the case with the British film A Lonely Place To Die, a recent On Demand release that I didn't know much about but nevertheless felt compelled to drop 7 bucks on last night. In so many words, I won't regret doing so once the hiked up cable bill comes my way next month. Not one bit, even though it'll likely mean i'll have to skip a meal or two. So be it!
Remember how in The Descent things were already intense and utterly breath stealing BEFORE the creatures were ever even introduced? Well ya, that's totally A Lonely Place To Die, a mountain climbing expedition that goes wrong from the get go, with a group of climbers fighting for their lives nearly as soon as the movie begins. One wrong move and they've got themselves a one way ticket to a closed casket wake and we're literally placed directly into the action, provided with both the sweeping wide shot scope and the handheld close up action that properly collide to make us feel like we're high up there on the mountain with the characters, shitting our pants from the tension even though we're really sitting comfortably in our PJ's on our couch. Now that's powerful.
Like in The Descent, the intensity is then ratcheted up to 11 when a group of killers are added to the mix, this time humans rather than creatures but with the same general mission; to fuck up the day as much as possible. And so, what would've already been an intense movie watching experience without the threat of killers thrown on top becomes a holy shit i'm falling off the edge of my seat thrill ride, sort of a mash up between Cliffhanger and Deliverance (without the man rape ... or Sylvester Stallone) that, at least in the first half (more on that in a minute), will leave your jaw as wide as a Victor Crowley victim and your breath harder to catch than an STD from a dude at Comic Con.
People always ask me what my favorite type of horror movie is. Is it the horror comedy? The zombie film? My answer is one that I always feel weird giving, both because it's hard to explain and because it kinda makes me sound like a sick individual. But here goes nothing. Though they can fall under any sub-genre, I like my horror films dark, realistic, brutal and confrontational. The ones where we're presented with a group of characters that we like and they're then soon after thrust into a horrifying situation wherein they're brutally taken away from us one by one. The ones where your nerves are rattled and thumbprints are (figuratively) left on your throat for days after. In other words, I like my horror films horrifying. I want to be disturbed. I want to feel something.
A Lonely Place To Die, though a film which falls under more banners than simply 'horror', is one of those films, a brutal and unflinching piece of cinema where no character, no matter how integral to the plot, is ever at any point safe from the wrath of those who are pursuing him. It doesn't matter who they are or what they look like; much like in the real world, everybody is as likely as anybody else to get it next. A Lonely Place To Die grabs a hold of you from before the opening credits even begin and barely ever lets go of your throat for the following two hours. It's a nightmarish descent into a mountain climbing journey gone as wrong as any journey can possibly go, where everyday people are thrust into a world that everyday people have no place in, their good natures putting them on the bad side of some really bad people. Cue serious intensity.
One thing I cannot stress enough is how beautiful this film looks, which was one of the standout qualities about it for me. The shots of the Scottish Highlands look like they were ripped straight out of a Planet Earth Blu-ray and they're absolutely breathtaking, a beautiful but at the same time totally unforgiving landscape, the absolute worst place you'd want to be when you're running for your life from two evil dudes with sniper rifles just waiting to blast holes through you. I've never climbed a mountain, and hopefully never will come even close, but an absolutely aces job is done by director Julian Gilbey, perfectly capturing what i'd imagine it'd be like to be up there scaling the peaks, your life oftentimes dependent on the strength of a piece of rope. No thank you!
If there's anything that I didn't love about the movie it's that it morphs into an entirely different film around about the halfway mark, trading in the foreboding mountain landscape for a bustling city setting, where some kind of strange parade is going on in the streets. Aside from the setting, the movie also changes in tone, as it goes from a high altitude mountain climbing thrill ride to a grounded kidnapping flick (featuring a killer in a pig mask!), losing a bit of its intensity and edge of the seat qualities along the way. I'm not gonna say the film falters in its latter half but as far as personal preference goes, I didn't much care for this shift and I much preferred the harsh mountain atmosphere to the more typical and safe populated city one. It's not that the movie gets bad at all, it just turns into a slightly less gripping movie that I personally wasn't as into as the one it started out as. If the whole movie had been kept high up in the remote mountains it spends most of its run time in, I can't help but feel like it would've been a more effective overall experience. At the same time though, I completely understand why the shift was made. Oh well.
Aside from that the only other little gripe is that one particular character's accent was very difficult to understand. Considering he was a major player whose character and dialogue were very integral to the overall story, this was definitely bothersome. Maybe it's just me, but I could barely understand a word he was saying and I felt like I missed a few things as a result.
A Lonely Place To Die was right up my alley, a fright flick that grabbed hold of me and often left my jaw on the floor, both because of the stunning scenery and the oftentimes shocking things that happen in it. Gilbey fills the screen with beautiful as well as horrific imagery, imagery that is at times even both beautiful and horrific at the same time, and it's truly a sight to behold. Though it's not perfect all the way through, i've gotta highly recommend it and i'm pretty sure if I did make a top 10 list of my favorite movies of the year (which I don't plan to), it'd likely find itself on there. Watching the movie tonight not only ensured that i'll absolutely never even go near a mountain but also that i'll be picking up the Blu-ray once it's released next year here in the states (the UK DVD & Blu came out this week).
If you end up watching A Lonely Place To Die and you like it, i'd also like to recommend you seek out 2006's The Backwoods, a similar film starring Gary Oldman that this one reminded me a lot of. It also kicks a whole lot of ass and is further proof that if you find an imprisoned child, you should probably just walk the other way. Sorry kids!
Oh and one last thing. Melissa George should totally wear skin tight mountain climbing pants in every movie. Even if it's a romantic comedy that has nothing to do with mountain climbing. That'd be agreeable.