The sea is to be feared. Anyone that has seen festival films Leviathan and The Deep already know this, but along comes another film in which the ocean plays a key role and, just as with Leviathan, it takes on a grand spiritual significance. For Those In Peril is the story of one man who survived a fishing trip when his five crew mates did not, which seems remarkably suspicious to the small superstitious community who knew that it was the lad’s first trip out on the boat. It’s a tale of a survivor’s guilt, of grief and of trying to fight death. The sea is to be feared, because the devil himself lives within the waves.
At the centre of the film is Aaron, played by George Mackay, a young Scottish actor shortly to be seen in Sunshine on Leith and Kevin Macdonald’s How I Live Now. In his first leading role, he should very quickly become a star such is the strength of his performance here. He walks around the town and coastline with a palpable awkwardness, struggling to communicate with the locals who resent the fact that he is alive, and his peers who harrass him with questions about an event he can’t remember. Establishing sympathy with this strange loner – notably through flashbacks where he interacts with his brother – provide the escalation of events following the quiet opening act with an emotional core that is essential for the audience’s investment in the story. Mackay’s depiction of post-traumatic stress disorder is perfectly nuanced, ensuring that even as he becomes violent and irrational, we are still largely on his side.
It’s an important film for director Paul Wright, too, because For Those In Peril marks his feature film debut. He handles the task with aplomb. While occasionally relying a little too much on following Mackay on beach-side strolls, Wright weaves the themes into the narrative subtly, occasionally using abstract, grainy footage to create a slightly unsettling tone that matches the threat of the devil that hangs over the film. Aaron spends the whole film rejecting and fighting death, hoping to reclaim his brother from the belly of the devil. It is a credit to Wright’s direction that the audience might end up believing that this could actually be possible for the two brothers.
For Those In Peril works well as a drama for the majority of its running time, as it is both sharply directed and well performed. However, it is in the final moments of the film that the themes, direction and performances culminate in one thought-provoking, unexpected climax. Where the film had occasionally felt weighed down with an overly sombre tone, the finale means that everything that preceded it was not meaninglessly dour and ends the film on a strong note, mixing hope, sadness and peace in the space of just a few shots.
For Those In Peril is playing at Edinburgh International Film Festival on 28 and 29 June