Lonely Place to Die, A (2011)

UK / 99 minutes / color / Carnaby, Eigerwand, Molinare, IFC, Kaleidoscope Dir: Julian Gilbey Pr: Michael Loveday Scr: Julian Gilbey, Will Gilbey Cine: Ali Asad Cast: Melissa George, Ed Speleers, Sean Harris, Kate Magowan, Alec Newman, Stephen McCole, Garry Sweeney, Paul Anderson, Holly Boyd, Eamonn Walker, Karel Roden.

An adventure movie with a noirishly convoluted plot, so that we’re constantly being surprised by turns of events, this was misleadingly marketed in some countries as a horror outing. It’s perhaps not quite neonoir, but it’s certainly somewhere close.

A group of climbers in the Scottish Highlands comes across a place where kidnappers have cached a child, Anna (Boyd), in an underground coffin with just a ventilatory drainpipe to the surface to keep her alive. The climbers—Alison (George), Ed (Speleers), Rob (Newman), Jenny (Magowan) and Jenny’s husband Alex (Sweeney)—rescue the child and, rightly concerned the criminals may still be nearby, head for civilization as fast as they can go.

Alison and Rob, the two most experienced climbers, take the direct but most dangerous route toward the nearest village, a route that involves climbing down the sheer, 500ft (150m) Devil’s Drop; Alison’s halfway down when the bad guys—kidnappers Kidd (Harris) and Mcrae (sic) (McCole)—cut Rob’s line so that he plunges to his death.

From there on the climbers are at the mercy of the astonishingly callous criminals who, armed with hi-tech rifles, are free to pick them off one by one; what we don’t at first realize is that the kidnappers are themselves being targeted by a squad sent by Anna’s Croatian war-criminal father . . .

The opening sequence alone, set upon a treacherous cliff face, is worth the price of admission, but the movie as a whole sets out to be—and overwhelmingly succeeds in being—a white-knuckle ride. In this it’s helped in no small part by the score, done by Michael Richard Plowman; great symphonic music this ain’t, but it’s remarkably effective at ratcheting up the tension. Another aspect in which the movie triumphs is characterization: whereas in many movies with a similarly high body count the vast majority of the casualties are simply ciphers, secondary figures introduced into the screenplay solely in order to be bumped off, here the strong and sympathetic characters are just as likely as the rest to meet sudden ends. In a beautiful piece of volte face we’re led in one scene to believe that Alex is craven, that he’s proposing to sell out Anna to the bad guys, only to discover moments later that what he was really suggesting was that, since Jenny, the love of his life, has been murdered, he’s happy to sacrifice himself so Anna might live.

The movie’s major implausibility is its portrayal of a Beltane festival in a remote Scottish village, complete with fireworks and topless babes. The sequence works well, but the Gilbeys should have checked their sources: the Kirk and the climate together nix that piece of imagery.

As far as I can establish, this didn’t receive a US theatrical release, despite great success at movie festivals on both sides of the Atlantic.

On Amazon.com: A Lonely Place to Die and A Lonely Place to Die [Blu-ray]