Starring George Mackay, Kate Dickie & Michael Smiley
The ocean symbolises many things in cinema. For Aaron (Mackay), it represents the devil and, after it snatches away the life of his brother in a boating accident, he feels lost and desperate for answers. The film plunges us in at the deep end of this scenario with Aaron, his mother Cathy (Dickie) and his brother’s girlfriend Jane (Nichola Burley) all mourning their loss and, through snippets of raw home video footage and crackly voiceovers, we gradually understand the full extent of the incident. It’s an opening that’s as drab and gloomy as an overcast British day and the film stays this way for its entirety.
First time feature director Paul Wright clearly models his aesthetic on that of kitchen-sink pioneers such as Ken Loach and Mike Leigh and For Those in Peril comes with all the usual baggage you’d expect from Brit-grit cinema. The camera is seasick-inducingly shaky throughout and the dialogue is quite often unintelligible. But there are moments of striking believability thanks to the credible performances from its talented cast, especially Mackay and Dickie who display genuine emotion, particularly when on-screen together. Michael Smiley, although consistently brilliant, feels oddly cast here as the only Northern-Irish speaker in an otherwise entirely Scottish community. He’s also criminally underused and plays a character devoid of depth and starved of screen-time.
The film is bafflingly uneven, both structurally and tonally. To begin with it’s firmly anchored in reality, but as time goes on, it starts to dip its toes in the surreal with cryptic snippets of monologue and bizarre ritualistic imagery. This gradually becomes a paddle, then a wade until ultimately it finds itself treading water, unsure as to where it wants to go or what it wants to do.
It would seem that Wright’s best work is on the horizon as he clearly has vivid ideas, but here they don’t quite have enough breadth to make for a satisfying overall piece. This debut, although competent in a handful of aspects, is so encumbered with flimsy metaphors and so drenched in pompousness that it becomes a chore to sit through. For Those In Peril is a decent effort at fusing social realism with angst-ridden art-house, but there’s no need for British Cinema to be quite this joyless.