For my first blog post in over 3 years, I’ve decided to do something completely unrelated to law and review a movie I recently watched on Netflix, called, A Lonely Place To Die. But, being a lawyer, I’ve used my tools of reason and analysis to evaluate and cast shame on the personal decisions of the individuals in this movie, and concluded that both the director and the characters are guilty of gross negligence, and therefore liable to me for punitive damages.
[WARNING: SPOILER ALERT]
[SEE TRAILER HERE]
A Lonely Place To Die is described as follows:
A group of five mountaineers are hiking and climbing in the Scottish Highlands when they discover a young Serbian girl buried in a small chamber in the wilderness. They become caught up in a terrifying game of cat and mouse with the kidnappers as they try to get the girl to safety.
Being a story about mountaineering with fairly good reviews for a small-studio movie (IMDB 66% and Rotten Tomatoes 77%), I figured the movie might be amusing. One reviewer praised the film’s “relentless momentum,” and another described it as “part high-altitude adventure movie, part kidnapping caper film.” However, from almost the very first scene, it was abundantly clear that nobody associated with this film had ever climbed or even attempted mountaineering.
My review of this film can be summarized by analyzing the following segment:
After rescuing a young girl deep in the mountains, the group realizes the girl had been kidnapped and that they needed to get to the nearest city as quickly as possible before the kidnappers came back. After looking at a map, the group discovered they had two options for reaching the closest town of Annan Mor: (a) walking 15 miles along the ridgeline, or (b) running 2 miles to “Devil’s Drop” (500 ft sheer cliff), rappelling the cliff, then hiking 4 miles to the town. The group decided to split up and send the two best climbers—Alison and Rob—to take the quickest route and notify the authorities as soon as possible. The following comments were made:
Alex: “How will we get down Devil’s Drop?”
Rob: “We’ll have to abseil.”
Alison: “I don’t know Rob, that’s a massive rappel. We don’t have enough rope.”
Rob: “It’s okay, we’ll multi-pitch the cliff. We’ll be fine.”
Alison and Rob took only one rope and ran to the cliff side. Upon reaching Devil’s Drop, Rob wrapped their one rope around a craggy rock protruding from the mountainside (set 20 feet back from the lip of the cliff), wedging the rope into the crack behind the rock, and threw both ends of the rope down the cliff, so the climbers would rappel double-stranded.
Alison rappelled double-strand until she had roughly 6” of rope left, and then surprised and horrified, yelled above, “There’s not enough rope!” She decided to rappel off the ends of the rope, holding onto the rope to lower herself, then dropped onto a small ledge (nearly escaping death), and then attempted to downclimb 100+ feet to the bottom of the cliff. Rob then attempted to rappel, only to have the rope snap, causing him to fall to his death. When Alison finally reached the bottom and found her deceased friend on the ground, she inspected the rope, finding the end of the rope exploded and frayed, gasping, “Someone cut the rope!”
First, a few comments: First, while a 500 foot rappel is a pretty significant rappel, it certainly isn’t beyond reason. Scott Swaney does 800 foot rappels every morning before he eats breakfast. And “abseil”? Silly Europeans. And speaking of that, don't they use the metric system? Why are they measuring distance in miles? Anyway...
Now, let’s analyze this situation.
Double-Strand Rappel. Since the climbers had only one rope and needed to do a multi-pitch rappel to complete the cliff, they were correct in setting up a double-stranded rappel. Congratulations, this is the only thing they did right. Everything else is complete nonsense.
Multi-Pitch Rappel With Non-Retrievable Anchor. The first obvious problem with their rigging is the complete failure to build any type of anchor, but simply wrapping the rope around a sharp rock with obvious pinch points set 20 feet back from the cliff edge. Congratulations Rob, your rope is now permanently stuck, or getting sawed in half by the rock. Either way, you’re not getting your rope back, and you’re stuck at pitch #1. [*If we really want to get technical, given that the rock was set far back from the cliff edge, use of a Fiddlestick or Smooth Operator might have been an ideal setup for this particular scenario—extending the anchor over and below the cliff edge, allowing an easy release when pulling the rope from below and avoiding the obvious rope pull problems. However, if we are to believe they had only one rope, this wouldn't have been possible. Unless they had accessory cord. Which they should have had.] Regardless, we don’t need to get into the technical details of retrievable anchor systems to know that anchoring a double-stranded rappel by wedging the rope deep into the crack around a sharp rock set far back from the cliff edge creates obvious problems when attempting to pull the rope from below.
Unaware of Rope Length. Rule #1 for rappelling when you’re unsure as to whether the rope is long enough is to always be aware of how much rope you have left. It’s not even a rule, it’s simple common sense. Congratulations Alison, you blew it. There is absolutely no reason Alison should have unexpectedly run out of rope, and no reason why she could not have rectified this mistake. Upon finding that her rope wasn’t long enough to reach the second staging area, she could have locked off and reassessed the situation. She could have then attached another rope (or accessory cord, webbing, or anything!) to the end of the rope, passed a knot, and then completed her rappel safely down to the staging area. If that was not possible, she could have at least tied a Prusik hitch above her rappel device and tethered herself to the rope with a lanyard to make sure she didn’t fall while lowering herself to the ledge. And if that wasn’t possible, she could have locked off and ascended to an area where she could build an anchor. Given that Alison had a standard climber rack (ATC device, camming devices, etc.), she could have easily created an anchor in a pinch. [While these maneuvers may sound advanced, they are standard skills any experienced mountaineer should have, and the scenario does happen and is not exceptionally uncommon. I’ve personally had to ascend 100+ ft and tether myself to an overhanging tree in order to remove a carabiner that was preventing us from retrieving the rope, and friend Bronic Bednarek was forced to ascend a whopping 250 ft out of Englestead Canyon to rectify a similar problem. It happens.] But rather than taking any of these precautions, she simply rappelled off the rope while holding onto the rope (WHAT?!) and then let herself drop from the rope far down to a sheer cliff face, where she was saved only by a small down-sloping ledge. Fail.
Rope Blown. The final error is one made by the director rather than the climbers. Following the plot-line of this movie, the rope was supposedly “cut” by the bad guys above while Rob was rappelling. However, Alison makes this discovery by looking at the rope, which was completely frayed and appears to have been blown out from the inside. If the rope had been “cut”, there would have been a clean slice through the rope, with little-to-no fraying (at least not 5 minutes after the accident). Instead, the rope looked more like it had blown apart from shock loading … or sawed in half by rubbing against a sharp rock. Which is precisely what could have been expected from their setup.
Now onto some other major problems. If these were indeed experienced mountaineers, after dying and nearly dying on a 500 foot rappel, how on earth did the bad guys get down the cliff 5 minutes later, without any rope (but still having full gear, sniper rifles and ammo), and proceed to pick off nearly every climber with Chris Kyle-like accuracy?
So, in my professional legal opinion, these climbers were outright negligent. They had a duty to be safe and to keep each other safe, they breached that duty (on multiple levels), and their breach caused severe damages (death, and falling 100 feet from a sheer face wall and magically avoiding death). Their negligence was so egregious it arguably constitutes gross negligence. So congratulations Julian Gilbey (director and writer), you owe all of us punitive damages.
I really wanted to like this movie. But the layman errors were just too distracting.
Now, I’m sure many of you want me to critique A Few Good Men. But I’ll leave that alone for now. Why? Because you can’t handle the truth.