Movie Review: A LONELY PLACE TO DIE (Fantasia Film Fest 2011)

From survival terror to gunfights, this genre-switching action film will leave you breathless.

A Lonely Place To Die doesn’t fit into any one genre. It’s survival horror, it’s high wire action, it’s international intrigue, it’s a touch of paranoid conspiracy thriller, some stalk and slash and even a little hint of pagan British weirdness, a la Wicker Man. The film slowly morphs from one kind of a movie into another, never lagging, always keeping you on your toes. It’s an incredibly fun ride.

It’s also absolutely gorgeous. The film opens with Melissa George and her annoying boyfriend played by Ed Speleers (yes, Eragon himself) climbing the side of a mountain in the Scottish wilds. Director Julian Gilbey captures the majesty of the countryside and the vertiginous dangers of the climb in stunning widescreen photography. This is the film’s first genre fake-out, as the two characters fight for their lives, hanging hundreds of feet in the air, when Speleers slips. But the real story is yet to come.

They’re headed to an isolated cabin in the woods to do some hiking and climbing with a group of friends; again we’re unsure just what kind of movie this is going to be as the squabbling group heads out into the woods. They hear strange voices calling, and go to investigate and…

Well, you should discover the rest. There’s a terrified kidnapping victim, some coldblooded murderers, a desperate chase through the forest, heroic sacrifice, big gun fights and more. The film smoothly changes gears again and again, always keeping the adrenaline flowing.

George is fine but I think the impressive performance comes from Speleers. He begins the film as a completely despicable cunt but slowly, and without being too showy about it, changes into a character you kind of like. It’s subtle work in a movie that isn’t always too subtle - a quiet moment can be invariably followed by a head exploding from a massive round of ordinance - and you barely even notice the shift. I like that a lot, and it’s a rare movie that can take a character you’re wishing will die and transform him into someone you’re rooting for.

Eamonn Walker has a smaller role, coming into the film about halfway through, but he has such a badass presence you welcome him right in. To be honest I would have liked to see more of Walker, and the film slightly drops the ball by not giving him a bigger set piece at the end, but that’s a minor quibble.

A Lonely Place to Die slow burns for the first fifteen minutes or so, but then it goes right into overdrive. Gilbey keeps the action coming while ratcheting up the suspense; I would have liked the full reveal of the story to come later, but that’s just because I really enjoyed the way the film kept throwing in new elements. Once the situation and stakes are firmly established, A Lonely Place to Die winds towards an ending that, had there been a bigger budget, might have been truly spectacular but instead is just really good.