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For Those In Peril – DVD Release Review

March 3, 2014

DVDFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

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I love cinema that’s divisive. When a story is compelling and thought-provoking, when the style it’s told with is unconventional, when the events depicted and their meaning are open to interpretation, that’s where cinema more than ever fulfills its role as an art form. If you can find all those qualities in a feature film debut, then it’s hard not to admit you’re in the presence of a promising artist and that’s most certainly the best way to acknowledge Paul Wright, first time writer and director of the hauntingly beautiful For Those In Peril. The word underrated doesn’t even begin to do it justice but it’s the immediate one that comes to mind when thinking of this little gem of a film you most likely missed upon its theatrical release back in October but now have finally the chance to discover thanks to its DVD release on March 3rd.

Set in a fishing village in Scotland, For Those In Peril tells the story of Aaron (a terrific George MacKay), a young man who’s the sole survivor of a fishing expedition where five men from the village lost their lives, including Aaron’s beloved older brother Michael (Jordan Young). Aaron has no recollection of the accident and he’s evidently affected by the trauma to the point of shutting down as he tries to reprise his life under the care of his mourning but loving mother Cathy (an outstanding Kate Dickie). But re-adjusting to normal life is not an easy task when on top of his own demons Aaron has to endure the judging stares of everyone in the village treating him like a ghost, the walking reminder of their own grief. The only person aside from his mother who’s able to show Aaron real compassion and empathy is his dead brother’s fiancée (Nichola Burley). The two of them start spending time together, reminiscing about the good times with their beloved Michael and Aaron eventually opens up with her about his (apparently insane) conviction that his brother is still alive and how he’s on a mission to find him. Soon enough though, the girl’s violent and abusive father intervenes to break this friendship and blatantly threatens Aaron to make sure he stops seeing his daughter.

This inevitably leaves Aaron to fully become a misfit in the village and the object of scorn as he embraces more and more his belief that Michael is still alive. When Aaron approaches another fisherman who lost his son in the accident and asks the man to bring him along on his boat to look for them, the man loses his temper and reveals how his son wasn’t happy about Aaron joining the group, given his lack of experience at sea. Rumors and suspicions that Aaron might be the cause of the accident quickly arise and now, more than ever, he is alone. Even his mother, despite her overwhelming grief, tries to convince him that Michael is gone for good and that they need to move on. Aaron is haunted by nightmares and daydreaming visions about the accident and his brother. His PTSD symptoms become harder to control and his delusion (or is it?) about having to find Michael reaches a new level of potential insanity when he relies on a village folk story that his mother used to tell him when he was a child in order to justify his rescue plan. According to this tale, one day, all the children in the village had been kidnapped by the devil in the sea but a brave young boy turned into a fish and swam to the bottom of the ocean where he cut the devil’s belly open and saved all the children. With no one willing to help, Aaron uses scraps to build a makeshift raft and he’s well intentioned to venture into the open water to find his brother and bring him back home.

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Writer/director Paul Wright was inspired by the folk tales of his Scottish homeland as the starting point for the story and surely his personal experience of grief when he lost his father influenced his choice of wanting to explore the surrealistic state of bereavement so effectively portrayed in the film. The hardships of having to cope with the loss of our loved ones often bring us to an dream-like state where we just need to close our eyes to see them again and it’s hauntingly vivid. Wright does a great job at establishing the extremely close relationship between Aaron and Michael through flashbacks inserted via tidbits of funny and grainy home videos. We get the sense that this family had already dealt with the (unspecified) loss of their father figure and Aaron reminds his mother of how she used to tell them that as long as the three of them remained together, everything was going to be alright. That’s why he’s utterly motivated to re-instate that balance.

The inspired filmmaker uses a recurring voiceover from Aaron as a tool to get in his head. The reflections we hear as if Aaron were thinking out loud while hopelessly wandering the village or restlessly pacing around alone at home like a lion in a cage have been rightfully compared to those of a Terrence Malick film. And so has been the lyrical visual style that vividly captures the quiet village and the powerful waters against the intimidating backdrop of a constantly grey sky. There’s a Heart Of Darkness feel permeating the atmosphere and you can’t help but sympathize with Aaron’s tortured soul brought to life with visceral torment by the fierce leading performance of young British rising star George MacKay (How I Live Now, Sunshine on Leith). The outstanding thespian is practically in every scene and carries the weight of the world on his shoulders with such a convincing fragility that’s hard to ignore. He perfectly walks the fine line between dream and reality, sanity and madness to the point of making us want to believe he’s actually right.

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This is most certainly not a film for everyone. It’s dark and grim, lacking a traditional narrative and it ends with one of those jaw-dropping moments that are hard to shake off for days. Yet its mysterious and poetic qualities are so hypnotizing and stimulating that will demand repeated viewings. What more do you need to be intrigued? For Those In Peril has won the Scottish BAFTA for Best Film and Best Actor (George MacKay) and the BIFA (British Independent Film Award) for Best Debut Director. It was also nominated for Outstanding Debut Award at the BAFTAs two weeks ago. The DVD release is of pristine technical quality on both picture and sound level and the Special Features include Paul Wright’s short film Believe (2008) that won the Golden Leopard for best international short film at Locarno Film Festival. It’s actually the perfect companion for the feature film as it also explores the theme of belief against all odds. There’s no doubt Paul Wright is a filmmaker to watch and a fresh, original voice in the British cinematic landscape. Once you discover his film, like me, you’ll be eagerly anticipating his next one.

For Those In Peril is out on DVD on March 3rd.
Certificate 18
Running Time 88 min
Price £ 17.99

Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor