Paul Wright’s first feature length film has been widely anticipated after his short Until the River Runs Red, a story of a little girl, God’s daughter, lost and wandering in the wilderness, won Best Short at the BAFTA awards in 2011.
For Those In Peril continues Wright’s exploration of death and transfiguration through the isolation and Othering of Aaron (George MacKay), the sole survivor of an inexplicable trawling accident in which Aaron’s brother and idol Michael (Jordan Young) drowns. Set in a rural fishing community in the west coast of Scotland, For Those In Peril features a myriad of cinematographic styles, Wright employing an amalgamation of digital handy-cams, phone camera, 8mm cinecam and newsreel footage to depict Aaron’s descent from the hope of finding his brother alive and safe into the depths of his mental breakdown.
The protagonist’s guarded and caged responses whenever the villagers question him about the truth surrounding the accident serve only to muddy the water, drawing the narrative into a tense and frustrated relationship between the small community and Aaron and his mother (Kate Dickie).
The small fishing community itself becomes an increasingly maleficent entity, forsaking Aaron as a cursed reminder of what the town has lost. The level of psychological violence soon gives way to the physical, and the story oscillates and swirls around Aaron’s increasingly unnerving behaviour.
The film also centres on a fairy tale told to the children of the town by their parents about The Devil in the ocean. As the narrative becomes more fragmented, exacerbating the atmosphere of isolation that surrounds the protagonist, the imagery becomes increasingly Pagan in a knowing nod to the original Wicker Man movie.
Nothing is truly revealed in this film, only beautifully insinuated as Wright crafts a dark and twisting tale of loss and hope so relentless we are never sure if Aaron’s idolisation of his brother is born of a genuine love or of a disposition only heightened by his melancholy. In this, For Those In Peril offers a commentary on mental health, the fundamental misunderstanding of traumatically induced psychic stress by a public unaffected or all too paralysed by the Truth of the fragility of the human mind to even allow an inch of reconciliatory empathy within their community.
And so what is the truth of the matter? Are we to believe that there really is a Devil in the ocean that has all the children kept in its “dirty belly”? Or that Aaron is suffering from a form of PTS (Post Traumatic Stress)? It is in this psychic hinterland the film evokes that its poignancy lies, making it at once beautiful and distressing.
For Those in Peril is a striking debut feature film which marks Paul Wright out as a rising talent in British cinema and one that is well worth keeping an eye on.