Between A Rock & A Hard Place (2017) review

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While being chased by bullies along the wilds of the Scottish coast, young Neil takes refuge in the secluded home of Walter an elderly man living a hermit-like existence.

After chasing the bullies off his property with a shotgun the old man invites the youngster in for tea and a chat. It’s a conversation that ends up changing Neil’s life forever, as no sooner does he leave Walter, he makes a decision that will see him locked up for the rest of his all too brief childhood. And so begins the prologue to ‘Between A Rock And A Hard Place’ an epically shot short film directed by the very talented Alastair Gourlay.

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As an adult ex-con and assuming the former owner must now be dead, Neil returns to the secluded farmhouse to steal whatever he can to make a few extra quid. However, he is caught red-handed by Walter who takes pity on him and invites him in for some more tea and another chat.

Basically a two-hander, ‘Between A Rock And A Hard Place’ is anchored by two terrific performances from two excellent actors. Walter is played by Game Of Thrones veteran Clive Russell while Neil is played by Scott Reid who I remember from the brilliant BBC series In The Line Of Duty. Both actors bring their A-game to their roles with the right amount of menace and emotion that helps ground their characters in reality and hammers home the story’s main points.

The film itself looks stunning. The bleak but grand landscapes of Scotland are framed beautifully in all of their glory. The greys and browns of the exterior shots give a sense of foreboding and remoteness while the interior scenes which entail of talking heads inside Walters kitchen are blocked to show lots of detail. Thanks to the brilliant production design by Henry Jaworski there is always something to look at, be that a suspicious box, a photograph, newspaper cuttings an open drawer. The house is filmed in a way that makes it look huge there are plenty of nooks and crannies inside Walter’s farmhouse and we feel that each one has its own story. The house certainly looks well lived in and all of these little touches and flourishes keep the static scenes interesting.Portrait poster v1 202x300 Between A Rock & A Hard Place (2017) review

Written by Gourlay and Emilio Iasielo, it’s easy to see the influence of Nordic noir in Gourlay’s vision for ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’, particularly in the colour pallet he uses and the pacing of the story. However, his vision is helped immensely by his Director of Photography, the very experienced and BAFTA winning James Friend. His expertise is on show in every shot and it’s  due to his ability that makes sure the film look worthy of being seen on a big screen. As the film reaches its climax, the colour pallet grows bleaker and the performances get darker and better, which all adds to the sense of fear and dread as secrets are revealed, answers are sought and threats delivered.

On top of all this, there is a very good score from Walter Mair which heightens the atmosphere of the story helping to highlight the tension throughout the thirty-five-minute runtime.

A completely encompassing experience, it seems churlish to find fault with ‘Between A Rock And A Hard Place’ but if there are any issues, it is mainly being that the film itself is not particularly original and contains a few well-used cliché’s that this type of short often try, but the production values are so high it remains a top class short film and I am happy to say that, ’Between a Rock And A Hard Place’ is not only one of the best short films out there at the moment, it also remains an excellent and enthralling piece of cinema.

4.5 / 5 stars     

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