The Scottish highlands are without doubt one of the most beautiful places on earth. In my mind, they are inexorably linked to Christopher Lambert’s Connor MacLeod and the Highlander series. There can be only one! While it may induce some snickers as audience members recall the TV series and sing the intro song in their heads, the Scottish highlands are the perfect setting for Julian Gilbey’s new film A Lonely Place to Die.
A group of five friends take a vacation to hike and rock climb through the Scottish highlands. Their fun is cut short when they discover a young Serbian girl being held captive in the woods. Trying to save her, the inadvertently embark a new, more dangerous outdoor adventure. When the girl’s captors discover her missing, they begin hunting for her and those who uncovered their secret. With mercenaries sent by the girl’s father on their way for the ransom exchange, a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues.
The lovely Melissa George stars as Alison, the strongest climber and de facto leader of the group. Sean Harris, who fans may recognize from the Red Riding Trilogy, pops up as one of the kidnappers. Harris also appeared in 2006 Fantastic Fest selection, Isolation, a moody and atmospheric little horror film about a mutated cow fetus. Yes, seriously. Rounding out the group of familiar faces is Karl Roden, who’s appeared in all sorts of films like Hellboy, The Bourne Supremacy, Rocknrolla and fellow Action Fest 2011 selection, Largo Winch. While the rest of the cast may not be quite as well known, the acting is realistic and believable throughout, never drawing attention away from the story.
The cinematography is, quite frankly, breathtaking. Shots of the main group hiking and climbing are peppered with beautiful aerial photography of the surrounding countryside. It helps that the Scottish highlands are so photogenic, but the footage itself is steady and well shot, full of vibrant color and crisp focus. The long rolling shots of the forest splayed out as far as the eye can see are simply fantastic and deserve to be seen on the big screen.
The story itself is tightly paced without feeling rushed. Thankfully, we’re spared the typically long setup that seems to be a staple for films like this. The group’s ill-fated discovery is made after a few brief scenes introducing the characters, telling us all we need to know about them and then moving on. It’s refreshing to see a film done this way as there seems to be an increasing number of films that bog the audience down in the muck and mire of superfluous backstory. The discovery is the catalyst, jump starting the story and pushing the characters into action. The tension rises quickly as the group is picked off one by one.
Gilbey has constructed a solid survival film, pitting his characters against both ruthless killers as well as nature. Having the danger and peril occur naturally through the terrain and adding lethal hunters on top of that makes for a good deal of tension. Featuring gorgeous cinematography coupled with an interesting premise, A Lonely Place to Die is a well-crafted slice of action and suspense.