Review by Greg Wetherall
Picture the scene; you survive a horrific accident. Ravaged and scarred by the events, you then return home. However, when you do, it’s not to a welcome but to a reactionary and hostile community where you are immediately ostracised and marked out as a pariah. Does grief stand a chance of resolution if it is to rest in such discomfort and pain?
Still, and not so still, waters run deep in this involving psychodrama from Paul Wright. For Those In Peril, his feature length directorial debut, tells the story of a young man called Aaron, who returns to his Scottish village as the sole survivor of a strange accident at sea. An accident that claimed the lives of five men including his older brother. Haunted by the events and steadfastly refusing to accept that they are lost, he sets out on a mission to recover them.
Firstly, don’t expect much humour. In fact, don’t expect any humour. This is thoroughly sombre fare. It plays things straight. Arrow straight.
Through the use of mock archival home video footage, the drama is flung from the present to the past and back again. Sometimes, the use of this gimmick is gloriously illuminating. It masterfully depicts the relationship that existed pre-accident between Aaron and his brother. It is vital. At other times, it is detrimental window dressing that provides no real purpose or gain. On such occasions, it smacks as a frustrating folly of self-indulgence. One that cries out for an editor.
If the net result is a slight destabilising of the film, the adhesive gluing everything back together is the cast. This is a set of outstanding performances. Especially from the central lead, George MacKay, who brilliantly plays the tornado of grief that is Aaron. It is a star-making performance. Similarly, despite being provided with a role that is slightly one-note in range, the ever reliable Kate Dickie is fantastic as his despairing mother. In fact, her pub recital of Roberta Flack’s soul standard, ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ is a spellbinding moment. She unravels before the camera’s eyes in a similar fashion as that of Carey Mulligan’s desperate karaoke scene in Shame (2011) or Emilie Dequenne’s devastating car journey sing-along in Our Children (2012). Her loneliness is laid bare and she cracks visibly like a fractured piece of glass. It is startling.
It is a pleasure to state that there are number of other riveting moments like that. This is a film littered with beautiful vignettes. Unfortunately that same piece of praise also represents its faults. In attempting to portray a mental collapse, esoteric and flamboyant touches may be splashed with abandon but this is not Ingmar Bergman’s classic Persona (1966) or Darren Aronofsky’s Pi (1998). The main thread of this story is depicted too traditionally to be that free or inspired. Instead, its strengths lie in the moments of dramatic tension, unleashed as they are in a Shane Meadows or Ken Loach manner of ferocity and edge.
For Those In Peril ultimately suffers from its wilfully choppy rhythm. Yes, the successes are tremendously powerful and the direction has a punchy verve and spirit to it. However, that does not excuse the number of plotlines that are deserted without adequate resolution. These represent a disappointing failure in the writing. Yet, despite this, the gross sum of the targets struck by Paul Wright ensures the film resonates after the fade to black, which is surely the aim of any feature. It is that most unusual but nagging of entities – something that is greater than the sum of its parts. On balance, triumph shades it, but b(u)oy it was close.
“For Those In Peril ” opens today across the UK.