Remember how Cliffhanger was pitched as ‘Die Hard up a mountain’? Howard J. Ford’s The Ledge, scripted by Tom Boyle, is ‘Donkey Punch up a mountain’, though having a mostly British cast playing Americans strips out the class clash angle that gave Donkey Punch a bit more subtext. That said, it’s one of the busy Ford’s best films, certainly more focused and effective than his last, The Lockdown Hauntings.
In the Dolemites, played by locations in Serbia, experienced climbers Kelly (Brittany Ashworth) and Sophie (Anaïs Parello) set out – near the end of the season, after the locals have quit because of excessive iciness – to scale a particularly tricky mountain face as a tribute to Kelly’s late fiancé/mountaineering guru, who fell to his death from it one year ago. Turning up in the next cabin are four American guys – Josh (Ben Lamb), Reynolds (Nathan Welsh), Nathan (Louis Boyer) and Taylor (David Wayman) – who are just here for a laugh, and intend to take the easy stroll up the other side of the mountain. Around the campfire, Sophie alternately flirts with alpha dick Josh and sneers at him for his wussy approach to climbing – not realising, as the audience has, that Josh isn’t just an asshole but a dangerous sociopath. Josh’s friends hate and fear him but still go on regular holidays with the bastard because they were complicit in an earlier atrocity they got away with. Things go South quickly and Kelly has to get away from the guys – with a vital mcguffin camera that has a record of their culpable awfulness – by climbing the mountain they aren’t prepared to scale. However, toxic Josh determines to get out of this, no matter how many of his friends are killed or crippled in the process – and heads for higher ground, visibly excited by the prospect of high-altitude femicide.
Once its situation is set, The Ledge manages to be at once expansive (big scenery) and claustrophobic (small patch of rock) with Kelly clinging to the underside of an outcrop and Josh and crew above working on doing her harm. There’s quite a bit about the dynamics of the group of guys, which has a kind of Casualties of War feel (even an echo of that Most Dangerous Game variant Open Season). Given that this is a survival melodrama not a study in fraying bonds of male loyalty, the character stuff – complete with foreshadowing of revelations that eventually come along – is mostly there to keep things ticking over between the small, practical, nerve-stretching suspense sequences of dangling, clutching, straining and nearly (or actually) plunging to broken-bone doom on the rocks below that are the film’s strongest suit. Even occasional flashbacks to Kelly’s climbing wall apprenticeship are just texture.
Ashworth was centre screen in another woman-in-a-pickle picture, the unusual zombie movie Hostile, and impresses again here with a necessarily physical, interior performance. Kelly isn’t a particular badass, but the fact that she’s better at climbing than her arrogant male opponents is one thing that gets under their skin even before this outing turns into a murder party and she has to become a rockface Rambo, improvising survival and retaliation tactics out of pocket lint and whatever she can find sticking to the side of a mountain.