An hypnotic fable of guilt and redemption, Paul Wright’s ethereal Scottish drama For Those in Peril (2013) tells the story of Aaron (George MacKay), a troubled young man who’s the sole survivor of a fishing accident that claimed the lives of his brother and five other crew members. Unable to recall the incident and convinced that his shipmates might still be alive, Aaron’s mind is filled with confusion – a paralysing mental state exacerbated by the small Scottish fishing community in which he reside. Believing he, in some way caused this tragic event, the villagers take the step to cruelly ostracise our conflicted protagonist.
Wright’s extremely promising feature debut is a timeless tale of man versus nature, as well as a study of the vehemently hostile disposition of mankind. Whilst it’s made clear by the film that ‘the sea must be respected’, it’s the raw and inherently vicious nature of humanity that emerges as For Those in Peril’s most hazardous foe. As unforgiving as the tempestuous ocean, the depicted village community continuously push Aaron further and further away until his back is against the waves once more. Building a raft out of washed-up debris and fashioning himself a makeshift spear, Aaron decides his only choice is to venture back into the vast azure void to confront the very thing that engulfed his beloved sibling and fallen comrades.
Simulated interviews and grainy Super-8 footage beautifully intertwine with Wright’s Malick-like camerawork to flesh out this truly gorgeous film. Heart-rending to watch, MacKay is phenomenal as the distraught Aaron, and whilst Wright subtly immerses us in this young man’s world of despair, it’s MacKay whose bold, compassionate and unabashed performance keeps us engaged. Similar in style and tone to Benh Zeitlin’s dreamlike patchwork Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), it would still perhaps be fair to accuse For Those in Peril of relying on its overwrought narrative, as well as being too concerned with appearing artistically brave and unique.
However, a tense and captivating mood is sustained throughout this strikingly original, sorrow-drenched maritime fable. We’re continuously kept guessing as to whether Aaron is genuinely suffering from PTS induced hallucinations (based on a series childhood myths and fairytales) or – as local speculation from the village would suggest – is, in fact, a deranged and mentally unstable killer. Whilst not a perfectly refined final product per se, there’s more than enough here to single out Wright as a bold and visually distinctive new voice in contemporary British cinema.
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