SXSW FILM 2014
By Linc Leifeste | March 20, 2014
Director: Paul Wright
Writer: Paul Wright
Starring: George MacKay, Kate Dickie, Nichola Burley, Michael Smiley, Jordan Young
A haunting, mournful meditation on loss and grief, Scottish filmmaker Paul Wright feature film directorial debut, For Those in Peril, is well-crafted and equally well-acted. Shot strikingly in unrelenting shades of grayish blues and blueish grays, the film visually immerses the viewer in an unremittingly bleak world that serves to bolster the impact of an already heartbreaking story.
A small Scottish village is reeling from the loss of five young fishermen, lost at sea in a mysterious boating accident. Among the dead is Michael (Jordan Young). His mother Cathy (Kate Dickie) is numb with grief, a grief that is both compounded and made more bearable by the fact that Michael’s younger brother, Aaron (George MacKay), was the sole survivor of the accident. Aaron is not coping well with the loss of his brother, struggling with grief over losing his brother, his spiraling depression and ever more tenuous grasp on reality exacerbated by crippling survivor’s guilt. Cathy’s grief is tempered by having her surviving son’s well being to focus on but the burden of trying to save her son from giving in to his despair and madness while struggling with her own grief is a heavy burden to bear.
Cathy’s and Aaron’s struggles are amplified by the icy-cold treatment they are getting from their fellow villagers, who some suspect of having intentionally murdered his shipmates. And having grown up in a culture rich with folklore and mythology, many see Aaron as a cursed creature, a harbinger of doom, to be avoided at all costs. Other than his mother, Aaron’s only lifeline is his brother’s fiancée Jane (Nichola Burley). As they spend time together, the two find common ground through their shared grief, and find themselves drawing closer to one another, at least until Jane’s father (Michael Smiley) decides he’s had enough of his daughter spending time with the village outcast and puts his foot down.
While George McKay delivers a solid, naturalistic performance in portraying Aaron, whose story is the focus of the film, there’s no doubt that the film’s emotional knockout blow is delivered by Kate Dickie, whose portrayal of a grieving mother is stunning in its spot-on perfection. Believe me when I say that her heartbreaking karaoke rendition of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” will stick with you long after you leave the theater and make you think see that song in a completely different light.
While the film is visually strikingly, well edited, and impeccably acted, it’s a bit of a trudge at times and not solely because of the overwhelming spirit of grief that imbues the film. While arguably suffering from a suffocating sense of sameness, with its monotone colors and its repetitive protracted scenes of Aaron’s grief, my sense is that this was an intentional tone set by Wright to more effectively convey grief. If so, he succeeds admirably. That success alone will probably be enough to alienate some viewers but the film also lacks for a narrative progression. Simply put, For Those in Peril is more about capturing an emotion than about telling a story, and as a dark, tragic cinematic mood piece, it’s a grievous success.