British cinema is great at taking quaint environments and turning them into Hell. We also have a penchant for misery and wasted lives, both of which you’ll find abundantly in Paul Wright’s impressive feature debut For Those in Peril, a keyhole into the social mechanics of a small fishing community in Scotland.
After a tragic accident takes the lives of five young fishermen, Aaron (George MacKay), the sole survivor of the tragedy which also claimed his older brother, is left in a steadily growing state of social detachment as the town around focuses their grief on him. Mackay shines as a social outcast, a loner before the tragedy and even more so after with little to live for in a town that sees survivors as a constant burning reminder of tragedy. Wright’s choice to include sound snippets of news coverage/interviews with locals helps explore the small town mentality and collective hatred for Aaron, who’s only crime is retaining a childish mind in a place that demands manhood sooner as opposed to later. As the film goes on and Aaron’s actions become slightly more elusive in the face of hatred, the audience starts to see that in treating someone like a monster, especially someone with serious trauma, you can end up making them one. Kate Dickie lends her talents as Aaron’s troubled mother, single-handedly providing a sort of normality bar with which to compare the rest of the town to, she’s also where most of the film’s heart comes from, hers being possibly the most heart-breaking story of all. The relationship between Dickie and Mackay is frankly one of the most impressive pairings in ages.
Aaron’s obsession with a fairy tale around a monster in the sea becomes more vivid as the film progresses, just as the town’s contempt for him does. Wright punctuates an otherwise muted cinematography with moments of vivid colour and crushing darkness to better convey the collapse of Aaron’s reality: as his guilt flares so does his anger at the “monster” and his alienation from family and friends comes full circle so that he descends into a sort of childish dream.
There’s a very honest quality to Wright’s camera and the performances of his stars, nothing out-there, nothing melodramatic, just a well worked story of people and their relationship to the world around them. At some points the film can maintain a palate too drab and spend too much time following Aaron’s isolated wanderings to the point of angst, but by the end Wright proves he has the vision to deliver an emotionally charged whopper of a finale that allows this quant wee Scottish sea-side affair to rest on more breath-taking grounds.
Not just a run of the mill sombre British piece about rural environments, For Those in Peril is a heart-wrenching narrative of guilt and redemption with a daring final direction and stand-out performances from two of Scotland’s finest.