My notes on Point of Death, due out digitally in the UK on February 11.
Well-acted – especially by familiar supporting player David O’Hara in a rare lead role – and impressively directed by Steve Stone – who also wrote – this small-scale British horror film has sat on a shelf for four years and only now gets a release under a new title that blunts the original (In Extremis) and makes the final destination of its wayward protagonist even more obvious than it was before.
Alex (O’Hara) and Claudia (Lisa Gormley) are well-to-do enough to have what seems like a remote country estate (though not an especially cheerful one) and live there with their occasionally creepy daughter Anna (Isabelle Allen) … and there are ominous rumblings that the end of the world might be nigh … as angry clouds betoken distant disasters and everything on the estate starts dying. When Anna is injured, Alex sets out to get her to a hospital and it turns out that even the landscape is working against him – there is now literally only one road available – and when he gets to a facility, it’s not the overburdened-by-apocalypse hellhole expected but a dilapidated, almost-abandoned place where Alex can be equally creeped out by a hysterical patient (Toyah Willcox) and an unnaturally calm doctor (Neil Pearson). By now, few will have failed to guess – at least approximately – what’s actually happening, though the specifics of who is in the situation indicated by the title and who is just being drawn into the world beyond reality take a while to get sorted out.
Strictly speaking, Carnival of Souls and Incident at Owl Creek Bridge are similar stories but have opposed premises – which didn’t stop Jacob’s Ladder using both of them at the same time … Point of Death trudges along its road towards oblivion with an agenda similar to all of these stories, but not identical with any of them. The point isn’t the revelation at the end, but the eerie effects along the way … and Stone does work up a proper atmosphere of dread, following the psychologically acute strategy of Melancholia in having one family’s personal end of the world spill over to the point (of death) when it seems to threaten everyone else. It’s squarely in the tradition of recent gloomy British genre fare (cf: Beyond, AfterDeath, The Unfolding) in having characters wrestle with end-of-the-world angst in an overcast landscape, as if somehow Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice had infiltrated the thriving folk horror tradition. O’Hara – the Prime Minister in Doomsday, James McAvoy’s hit man Dad in Wanted, and lately a guest baddie on the likes of Luther, Gotham and Agents of SHIELD – is one of those battered middle-aged British character actors usually seen as weary coppers or dour villains, but gets to show off a much wider range here, virtually carrying whole stretches of the picture on his wounded look and simmering fury.
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