A Lonely Place to Die, action films, Drinking Buddies, films, found-footage films, horror films, Joe Swanberg, Melissa George, mumblecore, survival, The Tunnel, twenty-something angst
Here’s where I catch up the other half of the double-header from Thursday, as well as the pair of films that were watched on Friday night. Without further ado, here’s the other Thursday film:
A Lonely Place to Die manages a pretty neat hat trick in its first 30 minutes or so, similar to what The Descent did before it and what the iconic Deliverance did before either or them. To whit, viewers are served up a big, rousing slice of survival action intensity before the story takes a U-turn into decidedly darker territory. In Deliverance, we got white-water rapids and gang-raping rednecks. In The Descent, we got nausea-inducing spelunking thrills and cannibal cave monster chills. For ALPTD, we get jaw-dropping mountain-climbing action and some very nasty kidnappers.
A group of friends, led my Melissa George’s Alison, take a trip to get in some extreme mountain-climbing activity. Once atop the sheer, isolated mountain, however, the group makes a disturbing discovery: there’s a breathing pipe sticking out of the ground and they can hear a young girl through the pipe. Freeing the girl, the group must then make their way back down the treacherous slope. On the way, however, they run afoul of the men who buried the girl in the first place. The group must battle the elements, the mountain and a pair of very homicidal kidnappers in order to protect the girls and get home alive.
First and foremost, ALPTD is a top-notch action film. I actually wish more larger-budgeted action films (I’m looking you square in the eye, Expendables series…) would pay the same attention to spatial relations that A Lonely Place to Die does. The action is always clearly delineated, whether it involves rappelling down a steep cliff face or fist-fighting an armed bad guy. The survival action opening is much different than the prolonged chase sequence that constitutes the remainder of the film but they both share the same clean, simple and uncluttered feel. Most modern action films strike me as “too busy” but ALPTD seems much more evenly paced.
As good as the action is, however, the acting is equally noteworthy. Each actor, particularly Melissa George, turns in a completely believable, nuanced performance. George’s Alison is a well-rounded character, not a stock “woman in peril” or “Lt. Ripley clone” and is a great hero. The kidnappers in the film are probably the most fully-fleshed bad guys since the pair of hitmen in Wheatley’s Kill List. There was actually a moment between one of the kidnappers and the father of the kidnapped girl that may be the most honest moment I’ve seen in films like this. Feeling these characters as actual people makes all the difference and makes the climbers’ individual sacrifices that much more impactful.
Ultimately, this is a film that does very few things wrong. I do wish that the action had remained centered on the mountain, however, since bringing the climax into a town gave it a bit of a “been there, done that” feel, which was kind of disappointing. Nonetheless, this was a minor quibble and did little to diminish my satisfaction after the film was over. If you’re in the mood for a good adrenaline-charged, intelligent thriller and don’t mind a little acrophobia, give this a shot.
Now, on to the Friday double-feature. First up, we have a little horror, followed by a little angst.
I definitely have a love/hate relationship with found-footage horror films. For every good one (usually the primogenitor of whatever series happens to be current), there seem to be an endless horde of pale imitators, usually held together by nothing more than shaky visuals, needlessly “video-esque” effects and filters and ill-defined humanoid creatures rushing around in the dark. There is such a formula to most of these (establish place; walk around; “see something;” split up; see something else; someone disappears; et al) that there seems to be very little room for any kind of originality. Unfortunately, The Tunnel does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself from the rest of the anonymous masses.
In Sydney, a journalist and small film crew descend below the city, into the abandoned access tunnels, to research a story about an upcoming development project. City officials swear that no one lives in the tunnels, which are due to be developed: the journalist has heard otherwise. Heading into the darkness, they find…pretty much the exact same thing that everyone else finds in the most generic of these.
Similar to trying to make a generic, old-fashioned zombie film in the current glut of everything undead, making generic, bare-bones found-footage films under the same conditions is suspect. If you have something new to say, I’m all for hearing it. In fact, the plot behind The Tunnel, while not original, definitely had me hoping for something more: possibly a nice combination of C.H.U.D. and The Blair Witch Project. Alas, I received something that felt closer (in tone, at least) to a poverty-row version of the [REC] remake Quarantine. Yeesh. Not much to recommend this, although completists have seen much worse.
As we age and go through various life-changes, certain aspects of our lives that used to be all-important become decidedly less so. To quote the esteemable philosophers Blink-182: “I guess this is growing up.”
Drinking Buddies, then, is a very specific snapshot of a very specific time in someone’s life. Specifically, the film is about that nebulous post-graduation, pre-settling down period in every twenty-something’s life, that time when all-night drinking with best friends is the only option and paralyzing hangovers are just one of the costs of being young.
Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson are the best of friends (platonically, we’re frequently told), seemingly attached at the hip. Both work for one of those uber-hip micro-breweries, the kind that always seem to have a more polite kind of fun than the bro-dog major brews. Their lives consist of: goofing around at work; drinking on the job; hanging out and drinking. Lather, rinse, repeat. Both have significant others, although we get the idea pretty early on that these particular relationships won’t be completely stable. And they aren’t. Hearts are broken; partners are swapped and re-swapped like a white elephant gift exchange; and many lessons are learned. Specifically: we all have to grow up sometime, even if we don’t want to.
All in all, I enjoyed the film, although it never really “spoke to me,” per se. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Joe Swanberg’s previous mumblecore epics but I really liked the dialogue in this one: fast, funny and painfully truthful, I never tired of hearing the actors say their lines. Similarly, everyone came across as realistic and, for the most part, relatable characters (director Swanberg even has a hilarious cameo as a ridiculously angry driver). I say “for the most part” because I never did warm to Wilde’s Kate. The dictionary definition of self-absorbed and selfish, Kate does her best to torpedo everyone else’s happiness, wishing only to ease her own sense of loneliness. We may all know people like this but we (hopefully) don’t look up to them and getting stuck with Kate in the drivers’ seat for the majority of the film can be a little like taking a petulant child to the zoo.
When we’re young, the world is all about us and nothing else is ever a factor. As we get older, however, we realize that the reverse is actually true: the world is never about you and always about everyone else. By the end of Drinking Buddies, it seems that everyone understands this truth except Kate. If you think about it, that’s pretty darn sad.