“The Ascent rather than The Descent. With humans as the monsters. “
Five mountaineers are exploring the remote Scottish highlands, when they stumble across an underground box containing a terrified, near-dead young girl who speaks no English. Two of the party are sent, by the most direct but not child-friendly route, back to civilization to get help, but it’s not long before they discover the parties who buried the girl are not too happy with her removal. For they are two kidnappers, Mr. Kidd (Harris, who also plays a psychotic killer in The Borgias) and Mr. McRae who are negotiating with her father’s emissary, Darko (Roden) to pay the ransom, not aware that Darko has hired some ex-soldiers to resolve the matter. Having lost the child, the pair set out to recapture her, and don’t care how many bodies are left in their wake.
It’s only slowly that Alison (George, whom GWG fans may remember as Lauren Reed, Vaughn’s wife in Alias – the role here was originally intended to go to Franke Potente) comes to be the focus, but it’s clear that her maternal instincts have been aroused, and she’s prepared to do anything to protect the child, and she’s got the skills for the environment. That’s when the film is at its strongest, pitting Alison and her steadily-dwindling band of friends against Kidd and McRae. Once they reach civilization, it becomes notably less credible, not least because the “festival” conveniently going on in town (whose fireworks are needed to mask the gunshots), is so wildly inappropriate for small-town life. I grew up not far from where this was shot, and we certainly never had festivals involving topless women in body-paint. It’s a shame, as I liked how the protagonists were not your usual college students in peril, the staple of survival horror, but a little more mature and sensible. Not that this helps their longevity.
It’s always a difficult call whether the “final girl” genre should be included here. To me, the decisive factor is less how she takes on the monster, villain or nemesis in the last reel, it’s how she has behaved before that point. The Friday the 13th heroines, for instance, do little or nothing to justify the term “action heroine”. Here, however, Alison proves herself worthy of the title, almost from the first scene, which finds her half-way up a mountain-face. By the time she becomes the kidnappee’s sole hope, she has already covered miles both horizontal and vertical, fallen off a cliff, gone through rapids and survived her fair share of bullets aimed in her direction. Yeah, she qualifies, and only a clichéd last 20 minutes stops this from being thoroughly satisfactory.
Dir: Julian Gilbey
Star: Melissa George, Ed Speleers, Sean Harris, Karel Roden