Director: Paul Wright
Cast: George MacKay, Kate Dickie, Michael Smiley, Jordan Young, Nichola Burley
Running Time: 92 minutes
Release Date: November 8th
Last week, the Daily Mail published a story claiming that the Loch Ness Monster has made its way to Australia, with a little map and a picture of the beast sunning itself and everything. With that story in mind, go see Paul Wright’s debut feature For Those In Peril. Aaron (George MacKay) lives with his mother (Kate Dickie) in an isolated fishing village on the Scottish coast. Aaron’s brother Michael (Jordan Young, seen in flashback) went missing nine months before the film begins, during a fishing trip. Everyone is sure he’s dead, along with the rest of the crew – Aaron was the only survivor. Aaron is a symbol of the community’s profound loss, and thus an object of suspicion and resentment. Not least because he’s sure that Michael is still alive and trapped inside the “dirty belly” of a great sea-beast.
Psychosis and the objective appearance of real flesh-and-blood horrors tend to look the same in cinema. Polanski’sRepulsion is the classic example, where the line between psychological imbalance and psychological horror is so thin that it disappears. Like Carol in Repulsion, like Curtis in Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter, like the dad in Frailty (rememberFrailty?), Aaron is consumed by foreboding. He relentlessly catalogues portents of something, even though it may simply turn out to be his own mental collapse. His obsessions force the camera to show us more and more of his bizarre subjective experience of things.
This strange shift is helped along by means of the vivid interweaving and patterning of different kinds of media. Anyone who’s seen Wright’s BAFTA-winning short Until The River Runs Red will understand how effective this can be. As the film begins, snippets of actuality sequences from news reports cut in and out. Gradually they become stranger, and what action there is starts to get interrupted by frightening augural tableaux; hooded figures dancing on a beach, a red light throbbing on the ocean floor, bodies prone and bobbing just under the waves. There’s religion somewhere in this imagery, and, of course, in the title – about the only things over which God’s shadow passes in this strange parallel Scotland.
There is also, unfortunately, a somewhat Calvinist severity to the handling of those details that could serve to flesh out the plotting and characterisation. Wright can do rusty hooks, fish guts, blood and noise. Something he doesn’t work hard enough at is the everyday – the relationships between the characters in For Those In Peril are staid and clichéd, the dialogue is meat-and-veg, the kitchen counters are eerily spotless. Aaron’s interest in his brother’s fiancé (Nichola Burley) is a subplot you can imagine Andrea Arnold doing something interesting with, but Wright only shows himself up with it, and all for the sake of a done-to-death forbidden romance-type story. The problem is visual, too. When Aaron walks into his brother’s room, we start – it’s been kept as it was since Michael died. He picks up a t-shirt, but the place is pristeen – not even a little billow of dust. When pathos and gruesome minutiae meet, it’s really disturbing; like pulling the hair of a recently deceased loved one out of the plughole. The scene could’ve done with a patch of mould, some vermin, a cobweb or two, something to show that time has passed, that things are decaying and thus what an affront Aaron’s obsessive belief that his brother lives is to the natural rhythm of things.
For all its thrilling atmospherics, For Those In Peril is without depth – pun sadly intended. Wright wrings a good short film’s worth of material out of the story, and the rest, though brilliant in many ways, is filler-ish without the satisfying development of the characters and plot. There’s also a slightly anachronistic feel to Wright’s choice of setting. Much about the film’s world seems out-of-time, and what is ostensibly an old folk tale underpins everything. Filmmakers like Arnold have shown how much more effective the paranoid breed of horror story can be when set in a thoroughly modern context – e.g. the former’s Red Road. Less openings for sea monsters if you take that sort of tack, though. It’s a trade-off.