Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.
He despiseth the creatures of the calm,
The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I. –
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Paul Wright’s debut film, For Those In Peril (2013), is a rare, modern example of cinema showing the fallout, rituals and the potential aesthetic realisation of magic realism through emphasis on folklore. For the modern film situated in the present day, it simply must adhere to our reality’s basic laws, the most important being the lack of belief in lore itself. An isle built upon dozens of loric permutations is bound to have some traces, yet modern British cinema has often found it difficult to address such topics without descending into the pulp or the ridiculous (see The Wicker Tree (2011) or Wake Wood (2010)).
For Those In Peril uses several aesthetic techniques to address the potential hurdles of modern day mythmaking, creating an experience which seems similar to peeling through the pages of a sea battered scrapbook, built up over the years as technology of capture and remembrance has evolved and morphed. Like all cinematic belief systems in modern British film, Wright has no choice but to set his narrative within a rural community, this being the basis for more believable realities when confronting the reactions to the myths, tales and lores of the ancient land.
Much has been made of the film’s relationship with brotherhood, often being its main gateway into understanding and enjoying the drama on its most basic level. The film follows Aaron (George MacKay), a young sailor who is the only survivor of a mysterious fishing accident which happened far out at sea. The community in which he lives is a small close-knit area, meaning that a lot of people have lost someone they care for. Aaron himself lost his brother (Jordan Young) and is determined to get him back somehow.
By coming back alive, Aaron must confront the superstitious community. By doing so, however, he must also acknowledge what happened to him out at sea. This is somewhat of a paradox for the character as he seems almost determined not to tell people exactly what happened to the boat while also seeking help in resolving the mystery. The legends of the area (which are later recounted by his mourning mother who supposedly recounts the tale, recreating that of a childhood story) suggest that some creature can control the well-being of the fish under the waters and fishermen who work upon them.
For a film to treat this lore within the given reality, it must (and does) blur the line between the real and the fictional. Some call this magic realism (for example the works Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Haruki Murakami) and, in one sense, For Those In Peril can be classed as such. Instead of the honey-like words of Marquez switching between brutalism and fantasy, the film instead creates its own cinematic grammar by switching between different modes of capture. This ranges from the typical but beautiful digital cinematography that grounds the film’s location, to the camera phone footage and the super 8 footage of the past. This switching perhaps insists that the narrative is simply about brotherhood yet it presents a far more important factor; that of history’s firm grip on the present. By creating this tapestry of visual textures, Wright as a director can therefore move more fantastical elements into the foreground, though saves off doing so until the film’s climax.
At the heart of Aaron’s gradual exclusion from the community (partly due to his increasingly erratic behaviour and mental instability) is the gut feeling that the local lore is actually right; that his survival is as bad an omen as the failing of the crops in The Wicker Man (1973) or the finding of a skull in Blood on Satan’s Claw (1970). This is further added to by Aaron’s own belief (perhaps cemented by being the only person to actually know what happened) that he can save his brother by performing some form of ritualistic act or perhaps even Beowulf-like battle with the creature.
His failed attempts at building and riding a raft out to save his brother from the belly of this supposed beast hint that this may be a more psychological narrative than its loric obsessions belie. However, with the film’s grisly final enactment leading to the rest of the village having their unspoken fears confirmed, For Those In Peril presents that rare thing in films dealing with inherent folklore on the British isles; it is a film that ends on a surreal, fantastical but nevertheless an optimistic note.
For Those In Peril is now available on DVD.