Former Jedi, Liam Neeson channels his inner Bear Grylls for Joe Carnahan’s engagingly cerebral action thriller about a group of roughneck plane-crash survivors battling for survival against savage wolves in the Alaskan wilderness.
The brooding, sombre tone is more reminiscent of Carnahan’s earlier work on the grim, gritty Narc, than the hyperactive, bubblegum, explodey silliness of The A-Team, instilling proceedings with a genuine sense of peril. One of cinema’s most unsettling ever plane crash sequences is viewed entirely from Neeson’s point-of-view, not once cutting outside the fuselage, the spectacular set-piece typifying the measured style Carnahan employs throughout.
Filmed on location, the merciless conditions and sparse lighting give an authentic impression of seclusion in the expansive, unforgiving tundra, and there are plenty of gripping, heart-in-mouth moments with Neeson plunging off cliffs and through frozen rivers to escape his relentless predatory pursuers.
The wolves themselves, an effective, shrewd mix of CGI and animatronics are glimpsed only fleetingly, with eloquent sound design proving indispensable in the unrelenting build-up of tension. The slightest creak in the distance inspires absolute panic, the omnipresent howling a bleak reminder that time is running out.
Though the modest lighting occasionally makes it difficult to discern exactly who is being devoured, and supporting players are not sufficiently fleshed-out to make us really care when they do become wolf-fodder, Carnahan still delivers a thrilling and unexpectedly profound experience. The narrative is punctuated by brief, jarring, hyper-stylistic dream sequences, including one emotion-pummelling scene involving a long-haired little girl that provides heartbreaking, poetic insight into one survivor’s fractured psyche.
But ultimately, this is the Neeson show and the man who, since 2006’s Taken, has become the studios’ seasoned, grizzled, vulnerable hardman of choice, and who reportedly took freezing cold showers to prepare, is superb throughout. Disconsolate eyes hint at inner torment with his world-weary huntsman lending real gravitas to an endurance tale that proves far more emotionally devastating than its action-packed, wolf-punching marketing campaign might have you believe.
Filming in belligerent conditions, production must have made for an unforgettable experience, making the lack of extra ‘making-of’ features all the more disappointing. Deleted scenes, including a stunning polar bear encounter and extended campfire parlance give some background, and gravel-voiced Carnahan’s droll commentary offers some involving insight on the arduous shoot. However, with a distinct lack of bonus Neeson, this flimsy package feels like a frustrating opportunity missed.
EXTRAS>Commentary >Deleted Scenes