Thursday, October 02, 2014

For Those in Peril: On the Scottish Sea

Whenever the sea is personified, it is always in a malevolent way. For many seafaring Scottish villagers, there is a devil in the ocean. They are mostly speaking figuratively, but the suggestion takes root in the grieving teenage protagonist of Paul Wright’s For Those in Peril (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

Aaron’s older brother Michael was always popular with their peers, while he was the awkward one. Yet, somehow when their fishing boat encountered some sort of mishap at sea, only Aaron returned. With no memory of what happened to the others, he faces the village’s superstitious doubt and scorn as best he can, but his own survivor’s guilt is even harder to bear. As time passes with little social or emotional relief for young man, he becomes convinced his brother is still out there, waiting for Aaron to rescue him from the sea.

Aside from his wrung-out mother, only Michael’s almost-fiancĂ©e Jane offers Aaron any support. However, that sort of compassion does not sit well with her loutish father. Increasingly isolated and alienated, Aaron starts planning some desperate and probably hopeless measures.

Even though Peril always stays safely north of the Mendoza line separating proper cinema from genre film, a profound sense of spiritual uneasiness permeates the film. It is an earthly tragedy, yet like Aaron, we keep holding out hope for some sort of magical realism deliverance. Wright compellingly evokes the feeling you can almost step outside of time to correct some cosmic mistake if you only try hard enough, which those who have experienced deep remorse will recognize only too well.

Of course, we cannot undo what is done, which makes it so painful to watch George MacKay’s powerfully brittle lead performance. It is a quiet turn, but so intense you can practically see the gaping wound in his psyche. Likewise, Kate Dickie is nearly as devastating as the mother mourning her first son while trying to save the second, However, one of the greatest surprises is the soul and depth of Nichola Burley’s work as Jane, representing a quantum step up from her party girl roles in movies like Donkey Punch.

If ever there was a film that could be described as “moody,” it would be Peril, with considerable credit due to the sad beauty of cinematography Benjamin Kracun’s forlorn seascapes and penetrating close-ups. Wright masterfully controls the vibe, but he might overdo the perceptual stylization a tad, here and there. Regardless, it thunderously announces the arrival of its youngish talent, including Wright behind the camera and MacKay and Burley in front of it. Recommended for discerning audiences, For Those in Peril opens this Friday (10/3) in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema.