A Lonely Place To Die opens with that obligatory staple of the mountain climbing flick - what I call the 'Cliffhanger moment'. Beautiful landscape, exhilarating climb, assorted friends with different abilities (and agendas). Then, before you can say 'woah', gravity bites back. Only there's something about the matter of fact manner in which director Julian Gilbey handles this opening 10 minutes or so that promises something altogether more interesting. He cuts back to the landscape frequently and allows us to soak up the surroundings in a disarmingly pensive manner. Yet, sadly, the rest of this fast-paced chase movie can't live up to the early promise.
Alison (Melissa George) leads a group of 5 hikers into the Scottish Highlands to practice their climbing skills and get used to the sometimes harsh environment, in preparation for a tougher climb later in the year. On the second day, one of the group, Ed (Ed Speelers) hears someone crying out and spots a breathing pipe sticking out of the ground in a wooded area. The group dig down and discover a young girl, who can speak no English, locked in a box with no food or water. Deciding the only course of action is to take her to safety as quickly as possible, they split up allowing the more experienced climbers to take a tougher, but speedier route back to civilization. No sooner have they set off, than they find themselves pursued by the girl's kidnappers, intent on retrieving what amounts to their bargaining chips at any cost.
A Lonely Place To Die fails to reconcile the difference between the tense early scenes as the pursuit gets underway, and the hackneyed second half which comes across more like an episode of Ultimate Force than the bleak, tense thriller it should have been. Melissa George is great and plays it totally straight, convincing as the resourceful, sympathetic lead. She's no kick-ass heroine, but a powerful anchor who's turning into a formidable genre movie lead. It's a shame she's not given more scope to breath in the script, but nonetheless turns in a memorable physical performance conveying a deep respect for the great outdoors. However, it's not the stunning vistas that are the real threat here, but a pair of gun-toting kidnappers lead by Sean Harris (Harry Brown). Unfortunately they're unimaginative creations, neither functioning in the realist mode Gilbey takes to the climbing scenes, nor 'out there' enough to be fascinatingly bonkers. They wouldn't look out of place in The Bill committing a petty armed robbery and, as such, undermine the good work done up front.
The chase itself, back to civilization is handled with a certain breathless energy and there are a few unexpected, violent moments that come from nowhere like a punch to the gut. An overuse of slow -motion however tempers the gravity of the situation with unnecessary portentousness. In typical fashion, the safe haven reached at the end is not quite what it seems (hammered home with Wicker Man allusions) - fine in itself, and a genre favourite, but you can't help feeling films like Eden Lake have done it in a far more affecting manner. And in terms of Brit climbing (albeit downwards) flicks it can't hold a candle to The Descent.
There is fun to be had with A Lonely Place To Die, but ultimately it's a disappointment strewn with flashes of what might have been.
A Lonely Place To Die opens in UK cinemas on 7th September 2011 through Kaleidoscope Entertainment.