Shiny Shelf

127 Hours

By Alex Fitch on 12 January 2011

Somehow, and everyone I’ve mentioned this to refuses to believe me, I didn’t know the plot of 127 Hours until 24 hours before going to see it. Helpfully when I told my flatmate that I was going with some friends to see the new Danny Boyle film, he said: “You do know what it’s about, don’t you?”…

Neither quite a horror film nor an action film, 127 Hours falls within the drama category, but the drama comes mainly from anticipation of the pivotal moment – our anticipation of how misguided extreme sports enthusiast Aron Ralston is going to free himself from a narrow canyon where he is pinned by one hand to the ancient sandstone wall – and therefore a first watching of the film will be entirely different whether you know what’s going to happen or not.

In case you don’t know, I’m not going to spoil it here, suffice to say I think I would have enjoyed the film more not knowing, as it meant I spent the first hour and a quarter of the film waiting for the climactic scene to take place – something I was warned went on for ages, rather than the actual 90 seconds it takes – and so watching the film became an endurance test sympathetic to the one the character is enduring on screen.

I reviewed The Human Centipede for Shiny Shelf last summer, and like 127 Hours, it’s a film where the anticipation of something horrible about to happen is almost unbearable, but its delivery in the hands of a far better film maker makes the endurance test here far more palatable. In this case we also have the distractions that the director offers the audience, which are the same that Ralston as played by James Franco experienced – hallucinations, flashbacks and dream sequences – but even so, it’s only delaying the inevitable.

Unlike The Human Centipede, 127 Hours is a well made film by a great director, but I’m not sure it’s a great film. It’s beautifully shot, allowing for the fact the film would have looked better still on 35mm than on the small digital cameras the shoot necessitated because of the claustrophobic space most of the plot is located in, and has a great soundtrack and a gripping performance by the lead.

However like The Human Centipede it’s not a film I feel I’ll ever want to watch again as while Franco amazingly keeps the viewer transfixed on his solo performance for most of the running time, it’s not a film with hidden depth or rewards that will come from a second or third viewing (except wondering why Ralston has a dream about a chaste naked orgy in a 4×4 involving a dozen people – trying to set a world record for nudes in a car perhaps).

This is a film just about located within the ‘survival horror’ genre – by which I mean horror films where people are surviving the elements, rather than first person shooters such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill – which has become popular in the last decade, following in the footsteps of Adam Green’s excellent Frozen (a trio of teenagers stuck on a ski lift for potentially a week while wolves circle below) and the Open Water films. Each concern wayward travellers who get stranded by misadventure and then have to battle nature and hostile environments to survive.

Like anyone with some discerning taste, if you’re a fan of tense situations on screen, great acting and strong direction, I can obviously recommend this film, but it’s a slight experience compared to much of Danny Boyle’s career, a showcase for Franco’s acting certainly, but no Slumdog Millionaire, 28 days later or Trainspotting by a long chalk.

If there was more drama in the film – perhaps if the dream sequences were more involving and the lead character lost his mind – some juxtaposition of the present with the history of the location – where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid from the law and their inevitable doom – or more horror – if Ralston was in a coffin like the protagonists of Buried or Quentin Tarantino’s episode of CSI – I’d have been more gripped, but with the real horror only coming from the audience’s fear that the film itself might make them vomit or faint (as has been reported in early screenings), its less a movie and more a car crash in slow-motion, something that most people don’t want to go through again if they’ve had the misfortune of experiencing it once already.

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By Alex Fitch

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