We can’t be letting city-slicker criminals murder kids out in the woods. It’s just not right. Fortunately, there are salt-of-the-earth outdoorsman types doing their part, some of whom are even ladies! I consider this a subgenre in thrillers. Movie about criminals in tracts of wilderness going up against people who are better than them at camping and whatnot.
For instance, Those Who Wish Me Dead, a thriller directed by Taylor Sheridan, a square-jawed TV actor who apparently had a drawer full of scripts.
Sheridan got suddenly famous for his Sicario script in 2015, directed by Denis Villeneuve, shot by Roger Deakins, and starring Emily Blunt, Daniel Kaluuya, and Josh Brolin. So of course it was great. Sheridan then got even more famous with his scripts for Hell or High Water and Wind River, which were also great. He even directed Wind River himself. That’s a lot of quality output. This guy’s going places! Unfortunately, the places he went were the embarrassingly awful script for a Sicario sequel and the even more embarrassingly awful script for Without Remorse, in which Tom Clancy tries to introduce a little grit into his techno thrillers without realizing that Mary Sues don’t do grit. Jack Ryan wouldn’t let his wife get killed. I’m just saying.
But now Sheridan is back in the director’s chair, this time with his own adaptation of a novel about a lady firefighter who refuses to let some city-slicker criminals murder a kid out in the wildnerness. You can tell Those Who Wish Me Dead is from a novel because of the title, which is way too literary for a movie. I mean, it fits. But that’s not saying much. About 75% of all movies are about people trying to kill the main character. Besides, movies need titles that are simple and direct. But The Killers was taken, so Sheridan stuck with Those Who Wish Me Dead.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Angelina Jolie is a hard-livin’ firefighter/parachutist haunted by her past blah blah blah. Now she has to protect a boy lost in the wilderness who has secret McGuffin information that has brought out the titular characters. The boy’s father, a forensic accountant, has been working on a case that “implicates a lot of people,” he explains while they’re on the lam from the titular characters. “Governors, Congressmen,” he says. So, basically, it’s Matt Gaetz’ Venmo records or something like that.
The titular characters tasked with chasing down the records and silencing anyone who might release them are played by Aiden “Littlefinger in Game of Thrones” Gillen and Nicholas “About A Boy and Fury Road and yep that’s the same guy in both movies” Hoult. They might wish people dead, but it turns out they’re not very good at making their wishes come true. They’re actually really bad at it. My favorite part of Those Who Wish Me Dead is when Nicholas Hoult is going to shoot an unarmed person with his gun, but the person tricks him by standing on the other side of a tree. Pretty sneaky, because now Nicholas Hoult has to walk up to the tree. It doesn’t occur to him to just move laterally and shoot the person from another angle. So he walks up to the tree, gets within striking distance of his unarmed target, and now they’re having a fistfight. Nice move, Hoult. Or, as Immortan Joe once told him, “Mediocre…” Meanwhile, Aiden Gillen is variously burned, beaten, and shot by Those He Wishes Dead. Hoult and Gillen are like the Wet Bandits in Home Alone. By the way, I’ve never seen a Home Alone movie, so I’m assuming they’re called the Wet Bandits because they nurse other people’s children? Home Alone must be a weird movie.
Anyway, these Wet Bandits start a forest fire to distract the authorities from the murders they plan to commit on Those They Wish Were Dead. Aiden Gillen chucks a few flares into some pine needles at a rest stop, chuckling evilly as he does so. Then, as the rest of the movie happens, the chucked flares turn into a mildly raging inferno of unremarkable CG that will bide its time until the end of the movie. At which point it shows up to throw eerie lighting on the inevitable showdowns. Then, once the showdowns are done, it will take over for the titular characters in a last-minute chase scene. “Ha ha, I’m still here,” the fire cackles as Angelina Jolie and her young ward run into a convenient creek where they hang out until the fire gets dejected and moves on to allow the movie its pointless denouement. And since I know you’ll be wondering, no, Angelina Jolie never gets to do the parachute trick that’s introduced early in the movie. I guess Sheridan has written enough scripts to know that Chekhov’s gun applies to guns and not necessarily parachutes. Fair enough.
The real issue here is one of character development. Jolie’s backstory and the killers’ supposed ruthlessness are so weakly established that they feel like subplots. This leaves the ancillary characters to carry the movie. Such as the forensic accountant, played by the always reliable Jake Weber. A heartfelt performance, far better than the movie deserves, from a gifted child actor named Finn Little. Jon Bernthal as the “aw shucks” local sheriff, and especially Medina Senghore as his fierce and fiercely pregnant wife who deftly steals the movie. One Who Was Wished Dead But Wasn’t Having Any Of It would have been a better title.
Also in the subgenre is Curtis Hanson’s toothlessly 90s thriller River Wild. Maryl Streep is a white-water rafter who has to save her family from some city-slicker criminals who have just robbed a cattle auction. That’s right, not a bank, but a cattle auction. Now they’re making their getaway down a white-water river because reasons. It speaks volumes that one of the villains is played by John C. Reilly before he’d established his reputation as a loveable dope always on the verge of saying something funny. Here he’s supposed to be vaguely threatening. But River Wild is a low stakes movie, which is evident early on when it refuses to kill a dog. Brace yourself for an absurdly low body count. This river is actually pretty mild.
Contrast this to the grim 2011 thriller A Lonely Place To Die, in which mountain climber Melissa George refuses to let some city-slicker criminals kill a child. The movie was written, edited, and directed by brothers Julian and William Gilbey, both of whom are avid mountain climbers. They even appear as stunt doubles during some of the harrowing mountain climber scenes. A Lonely Place To Die has none of Cliffhanger’s action hero sensibility, because it’s not a Renny Harlin action movie starring Sylvester Stallone and financed by the testosterone-soaked pockets of Carolco. So it has the freedom to be grim, violent, and unpredictable. And with Sean Harris as the standout in a generous rogue’s gallery of city-slicker criminals, it’s got more than a couple of hapless bad guys faffing about in the wilderness. Salt-of-the-earth outdoorsman Melissa George has her work cut out for her.
Speaking of, my favorite hapless city-slicker criminal faffing about in the wilderness would have to be John Cusack in Blood Money, a justifiably obscure Lucky McKee movie that wonders what would happen if three dumb teenagers found D.B. Cooper’s money. The D.B. Cooper character is played by Cusack, who is clearly not ready to be faffing about in the wilderness recovering the bags of money he threw out of an airplane. When he first runs into the three dumb teenagers who will find his money, he asks if they have a cigarette. They don’t. They’re the type of healthy teenagers who float a canoe out into the wilderness for fun. One of them is in the middle of stretching before going for a run. Of course they don’t have a cigarette.
“Pain meds?” he asks, hopefully. “Oxycontin?”
They don’t. Which has cast a pall over the conversation. He hasn’t made a very good first impression. So he apologizes for bothering them and then meanders off into the wilderness. The salt-of-the-earth outdoorsmen teenagers will end up fighting him and each other for the money, but only after he dispenses mid-life crisis wisdom to one of them. It’s a weird movie, and it’s ultimately undone by three weak leads working with a weak script, but at least it’s got Cusack moping around being vaguely evil-ish while he’s jonesing for a cigarette and accidentally shooting cops in the head. At one point, a dumb teenager taunts Cusack for being dressed “like a goddamn Metallica roadie.”
He doesn’t dispute this. He can’t. Because he is dressed like a goddamn Metallica roadie. So he points out that he likes Metallica.
“Everybody likes Metallica,” the dumb teenager explains. The dumb teenager has won this round. Did I mention he’s played by the kid from Boyhood?
Anyway, the point of all this is that Those Who Wish Me Dead is nowhere near as good as A Lonely Place To Die, but at least it’s not as dumb as Blood Money. So if you’re browsing movies about criminals in tracts of wilderness going up against people who are better than them at camping and whatnot, your best bet is to click the Lonely Place To Die link below.
Those Who Wish Me Dead
It's terrible. You should watch A Lonely Place To Die Instead.