Liam Neeson works as a hunter for an oil company of some sort. He works up near the arctic circle, and his job is to shoot wolves before they attack the company’s workers. His tour of duty has come to an end, however, and it’s time for him to fly home. Hence, he and about a hundred others board a plane for the civilized world.
Waking up in the freezing wilderness, Neeson realizes very quickly that they will never be found. Thus, he tells the other survivors that they need to walk their way out of the wilderness. They don’t really agree... not until one of them gets eaten by wolves. See, it turns out that they have landed in the hunting grounds of a particularly vicious pack of wolves, run by a massive gray alpha wolf, and these wolves have a taste for human.
The rest of the story is simple: as Neeson and the rest make their way through the wilderness, the wolves hunt them and pick off the stragglers.
Films like this are difficult because they don’t give the director much to work with. On the one hand, you have “facing the elements,” fighting exhaustion, and fighting off the foe who can attack at will. That may sound like more than enough, but it’s not. The reason is that all of this has been done so often that it’s frankly rather dull. How many ways can you show wanting to fall asleep or freezing in the snow or doing the same things we know they must do to survive? The attacks are obviously more interesting, but they are necessarily rare or the film becomes a bit of a joke. So how do you fill in the rest of the film in a way which keeps the audience’s attention?
Director Joe Carnahan gets around these issues by embracing them all, but only in tiny amounts. Essentially, we are shown enough conflict to know that the men are scared, but not enough to see them as stupid. We are shown enough flashbacks to know what the men have to live for, but not enough to weigh us down or slow the story. We see Neeson’s story in flashback too, but it isn’t much longer than the others, though it has a strong punch. And we get an inner monologue from Neeson which is credible, intense, and gives us genuine insight into his character.
The one downside... or maybe not... is the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that it’s not a traditional ending and some people won’t like it at all. I personally wanted more at first, but felt satisfied as I thought about the meaning of it all.
All told, this is a film where you all know the plot, you all know what will happen, and you can guess most of the characters. Nevertheless, the film feels fresh and it will pull you in and hold your interest. I definitely recommend this one.