It’s always exciting to discover a potential “Best of the Year” film while at a film festival. Last year, Toronto After Dark introduced genre audiences to the exquisite Michael Fassbender/Neil Marshall film Centurion and this year, the equivalent may well be genre mash-up action thriller from brothers Will and Julian Gilbey, A Lonely Place to Die.
The film begins with an intro to seasoned mountaineers Alison (Melissa George) and Rob (Alec Newman) who barely escape a near fatal mishap on a sheer rock face thanks to their rookie companion Ed (Ed Speleers). Meeting up with fellow climbers Jenny (Kate Magowan) and Alex (Garry Sweeney) in the remote Scottish Highlands, the group set out on their climbing expedition but are interrupted when they follow faint cries echoing through the woods, and discover a little girl named Anna (Holly Boyd) buried in a wooden chamber. Speaking only an unrecognizable foreign language (one character guesses it may be Croatian), the traumatized child can’t tell them how she got there.
Being the more experienced climbers, Alison and Rob elect to take a dangerous shortcut down the side of a mountain to quickly get help from the closest town, while the rest take Anna along the safer, more roundabout path. Soon both parties become targets for a vicious pair of kidnappers (Sean Harris, Stephen McCole) who need Anna alive in order to collect their booty, and are willing to off anyone who gets in their way.
The battle for Anna climaxes in a tiny hamlet that’s celebrating its annual pagan celebration with a trio of hired guns (Eamonn Walker, Karel Roden, Paul Anderson) joining the fight in order to deliver the girl back to her war criminal Father unscathed.
A Lonely Place to Die is the kind of film where you get a lot of bang for your buck. The awe-inspiring mountain locations and spooky, rolling landscapes are suitably impressive in their beauty and in their isolation. It’s the perfect setting for our frightened characters to careen down mountainsides, plunge into raging rivers and duck bullets as they whistle through the tree branches…and oh boy, do they.
The action is perfectly paced and never lets up from the moment our heroes discover the little girl. The characters fight for survival, barely getting (and the audience along with them) time to breath between onslaughts. The film’s game-changer third act switches gears, taking the characters out of the woods and sending them right into the centre of a kooky parade/ritual straight out of The Wicker Man. Sounds strange, but it works out brilliantly.
A Lonely Place to Die is a whole ton of fun and exactly the kind of movie that’s best seen with an audience full of genre fans.
Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs until October 27. Check the website for ticket and schedule information.
Don’t forget to check out Toronto Movies Examiner on Facebook and Twitter for even more reviews and interviews!