Wednesday, April 15, 2020

For Those in Peril


Continuing my mission to impart my strange love for random obscure films onto people who don't much care -- that would be you, so thanks for reading -- I now come to For Those in Peril. A modern folktale that straddles the psychological line between fantasy and reality. It tells of a small Scottish fishing village in the aftermath of a mysterious boating accident where 5 of the 6 crew members were lost at sea.

Written and directed by Paul Wright. Streaming free on Amazon Prime.

The survivor is Aaron (George MacKay), younger brother of one of the lost. While the village mourns and raises questions of a "Jonah," Aaron becomes consumed by the idea that his brother and the other men are not dead at all -- but that he can somehow get them back. This idea stems from a tale told commonly in the village of a Devil that lives in the sea, stealing people and happiness away, and must be killed to restore everything to the way it was before. Aaron believes he's right, but is he? Or is he simply going crazy, as the town, and even his mother (Kate Dickie) thinks?

Oddly, that's where I feel like leaving you. But I don't suppose I can fully recommend a movie on premise alone. For Those in Peril is a tough sell, though. Not for the easily bored, as it spends much of its meager run time crafting a tone almost separately from its plot. It compiles dramatic, artistic shots that don't convey much of substance, but do effectively bring a sense of the weird and the unsure which is greatly useful as we go deeper into the uncertainty that the plot brings as well. The movie is also small and small budgeted, though it doesn't lack anything for being so. It accomplishes what it needs to, and often accomplishes it beautifully.

I love when small movies know how to use a budget. There's no lack of style or impact here. 

If the film did have a bigger budget or loftier goals in its technical elements, I can only see that being a distraction, not something that'd do the story or characters any good. A handheld camera and rural Scottish landscape may have been all that is used, but many shots are stuck in my head, due to the raw impact they bring. There are also brief interludes of camcorder footage used for flashbacks, and the intentional low-quality becomes ingrained into the style of the picture. It's used at first alongside soundbites of narration to get information out. Then later, the grainy footage reveals information and connects dots in a more disembodied way that is eerily effective.

I found this one when I was on the lookout for George MacKay movies, and though this film impressed me and has stuck with me beyond his involvement, I think he is the standout, and the most important element. No one does the decent into madness deal like he does, and his extremely internalized performance here is both frightening and endearing. The balance is important. Kate Dickie as his mother is equally as strong, perhaps even more so, and with less than half the screen time. Together they carry the film, while Michael Smiley and Nichola Burley round out the vaguely recognizable cast.

The sea-themed hymn, Eternal Father, Strong to Save gives it its title: "Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea!"

With a well of disembodied details to unpack at leisure, memorable imagery, two rich and feeling performances at the center, and a bold ending that doesn't hold back, one thing For Those in Peril manages without a doubt is to keep away from the middling. You might find it boring and bad, or you might find yourself thinking about it for days afterward as I did, pondering the questions it raises, and falling a little bit in love. I went out searching and came back with a gem; so who knows? You might could, too.

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