This is one of those “based on a true life story” films – this time a “human endurance against terrible odds” tale. Comparable in theme to “The Revenant” and “127 Hours”, the hero this time is Eric LeMargue, who gets lost in the frozen, snowbound wastes of the Sierra Nevada mountains for eight days.
I use the word “hero” loosely here though. Eric (Hartnett) is a former Olympic ice hockey player, who was sacked for bullying behaviour on the job and is chilling out in solitude in a remote mountain cabin, while awaiting a court appearance for some other offence. He is, not to put too fine a point on it, an arrogant, selfish, drug addicted prat with an anger management problem. The only reason he gets lost is because when solo snowboarding, he ignores the well signposted safe route and takes the unofficial one. Not a very likeable character at all.
This unlikeability makes it difficult for us to empathise with Eric and his plight, apart from the sympathy you feel with any physically suffering human being, as he is threatened by hungry wolves, falls through a hole in the ice into sub-zero temperature and has to dry his clothes while shivering naked. His final agony is when he is unable to walk after badly injuring his leg and has to watch the leg rotting with frostbite and what looks like gangrene. All done graphically enough to make you shudder.
The only other character of significance is his loving mother Susan (Sorvino), whose persistence and belief that her son is still alive against the odds succeeds in persuading the mountain rescue team led by Sarah (Dumont) to keep looking for him after they have given up hope.
The film purports to be Erik’s epiphany as his struggle for survival forces him to take stock of the erroneous and selfish choices he has made in his life. This is done through a series of grainy and unsatisfying flashbacks, which aren’t really fleshed out enough to illuminate the character, apart from showing that he was a really cute little boy, as played by Kale Culley, who gave his mum a really hard time after they were deserted by his father (Jason Cottle), who also had an anger management problem – offering us a glib and not very convincing excuse for Erik’s bad behaviour.
The film only really starts to involve us emotionally once Sorvino comes to the fore and sets the rescue operation in motion. We could though have done with a clearer and more involving back story and more emphasis on her character and her struggles with her child.
The film does its best to wind up the tension, but we know he will survive, because the film is based on Erik’s book about his experience. We are also told at the end through photographs of him today with supporting captions that Erik, who lost both his legs to frostbite, is as a result of his experience a reformed character, who now devotes his life to doing good works supporting young people in sporting matters and sharing his survival experience. In order to enable us to empathise with him more, it might have been useful to have included this later information in the main body of the piece.
In fairness, the film is very well shot, the snowscape of the mountains is breathtakingly beautiful and the aerial sequences are good. But 98 minutes largely devoted to the sufferings of a man who comes over as deeply unpleasant throughout does not make for a very engaging experience