Written and directed by Paul Wright, his debut feature film following a number of award-winning shorts, For Those in Peril is a visceral and complex psychological drama with an emotional intensity that continually keeps a viewer guessing. This is a fresh vision from a bold and talented filmmaker who has an interest in telling his stories and provoking his audience with inventive sensory experimentation.
Aaron (George MacKay, The Boys Are Back), a young misfit living in a remote Scottish fishing community, is the lone survivor of a mysterious fishing accident that claimed the lives of five men including his older brother, Michael. With ocean folklore an influence the village holds Aaron responsible for the tragedy, and he finds himself an outcast. Struggling with his own demons, unable to remember what happened out on the water, he refuses to believe that his brother has died and holds misguided hope in his return. Though he briefly finds comfort in spending time with his brother’s former girlfriend, his worsening anxieties eventually bring him in confrontation with his darkest fears.
For Those In Peril is a gritty Scottish small-town drama and Wright has no interest in glamourising the characters. They live simple lives and are understandably affected forever by the repercussions of such a tragedy. MacKay has flawed features but every feeling is etched in his gaze, or felt through his body language. It is a terrific performance from the young man. The supporting cast are also working at a high level, with stand-up comedian Michael Smiley (Kill List, Wright's short Believe) again proving he can evoke fear with the best of them.
This is a thoroughly immersive experience, telling a story predominantly through various visual formats and discordant audio soundbites. The story doesn't unravel linearly with Wright challenging his audience to draw their own conclusions from his unconventional storytelling. We are never given the full picture at any moment, but cleverly offered fragments of the past from varying perspectives and the present from an unreliable narrator. His confusion, frustration, and unwavering sense of hope is certainly understandable considering his ordeal, being the lone survivor that no one seems to believe belonged on the boat or deserved to return. He escaped a meeting with a monster but will never rest until he confronts it and makes sense of his existence.
Aaron is at the core of For Those in Peril from the beginning, and while the film is initially set up to be about a lone survivor dealing with grief and guilt, and coming to the realization that by being alive draws malevolence from others, it then becomes something different. We come to understand just how essential Aaron’s perception of everything is and how the story seamlessly shifts into his headspace.
An inventive use of different cameras and formats add to the surrealism of Aaron’s consciousness. Wright takes advantage 16mm film, low-rent digital cameras and even camera phones to convey Aaron’s fragments of memory, the nature of Aaron and Michael’s relationship and an array of haunting visions. The use of soundbites is also very interesting. A sequence near the beginning, as we learn about the accident, is accompanied by cumulated commentary; some of the locals discussing the lone survivor and speculating as to what happened. One could be forgiven for believing the film to be a documentary, but this original technique sets the tone of the film.
Take the plunge with For Those In Peril; from the eerie opening to the unforgettable finale Wright's astounding debut is mesmerizing.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.