Original review featured on the Doha Film Institute website.
A plane crashes in Alaska; the survivors find themselves hunted by a pack of wolves. It’s a fierce battle against harsh nature and angry predators. Ottway’s (Liam Neeson) work consists of shooting wolves for the protection of workers assembling pipelines. He describes them as “men unfit for mankind”. He carries himself with a lot of mystery and darkness and is detached from the rest of his colleagues.
The prologue of the film gives us a thorough introduction to the world of Ottway. Through flashbacks, we understand that he has lost his one true love. He is dragging his life in slow steps with the bitter attitude of a man who has nothing more to lose and attempts to commit suicide. At the last minute, he doesn’t pull the trigger; the sight of a wolf he just shot dying in front of eyes gives him a breath of hope and a philosophical statement on the absurdity of life and death.
In one sense this is a typical disaster movie: Ottway finds himself travelling with his co-workers when they suddenly crash in the middle of nowhere, in the cold and hostile wilderness of Alaska. Ottway naturally takes charge of the survivors, and like an experienced boy scout gives directions and tips for survival. The others follow out of despair and fear. But what may seem like a classic battle between man vs nature, is upended when they stumble across another major obstacle – of a pack of wolves protecting their territory. They don’t want to eat, they just kill to threaten. Ottway, the only wolf expert on board, suggests moving locations towards the trees. They are now exposed to the anger of brute mammals.
With nothing but grey and white color palette, and all colors dissimilated, Man and wolves become equal fighters in their endurance. It turns into a rivalry between two species. Action scenes take a conventional turn, and it’s not hard to guess who the next victim will be, even if taken by surprise. What makes of the film watchable is the rise of human soul towards spirituality. Their introverted reflections and attitudes is not about survival, but the embrace of a fate they have no control over. It’s just a matter of resistance.
The trailer of the film offers more blood and suspense to the viewers than we’d expect. Instead, the focal point is on the journey which brings these men closer together and penetrates the superficial persona that Ottway used to despise in them. The more we know about these men, the more similar they all become.
The snow and storm scenes were not a cinematic illusion triggered by special effects, the actors instead endured the harsh conditions of filming with -40°C in Smithers, British Colombia. The results showcase a natural and beautifully shot storm.
Many might not like the adventurous closure they were expecting from such an action thriller. But I must admit that it is a mature ending, similar to a spiritual revelation. It completes a circle of life and death mentioned in the beginning of the film, and this is clearly why the film might stand out from others similar in themes.