An Australian production that moved over to Alaska once a suitable location had presented itself, Sugar Mountain loses none of its character in the transfer, displaying its shared heritage with the likes of Picnic at Hanging Rock and Lantana throughout.
Although nicely balanced between a small ensemble cast, this is essentially the story of put-upon Liam West (Coffey), brother to the debt-ridden Miles (Roy) whose unlikely solution to his financial problems provokes the plot. When their fishing boat is impounded and their livelihood removed, Miles and his girlfriend Lauren (Webb) cook up an audacious plan, in which Miles will disappear for ten days on the lethal Sugar Mountain before returning a hero and selling his story to the papers. Mountaineering Liam organises food and shelter for his brother, but fails to take Miles’ recklessness into account – nor is the West’s plan sufficiently thought through to allow improvisation in the event of unforeseen possibilities. Needless to say, nothing goes the way they’d imagined it, and pretty soon Lauren’s father, chief of police Jim Huxley (Elwes) smells a rat. Added into the mix is the recently paroled Joe Bright (Momoa), who also has a beef with Miles.
While Miles’ “disappearance” might make up the substance of the film, really it’s just an excuse to examine the complicated relationships that have arisen in the small, isolated community – and the final third of Sugar Mountain is all about how those relationships unravel once things have come to a head. Smack bang in the middle of all the developments and revelations is Liam, for whom things go from bad to worse and then downhill from there. The only break the poor man catches is interrupted in the most unfortunate fashion, before being undermined twice over thereafter in even more calamitous ways. It’s a good job that Shane Coffey is as likeable, if also rather taciturn, as he is, otherwise Sugar Mountain might be a journey too arduous to take.
There’s not a lot of humour in the film. It’s a slow burn, albeit gladly not a glacially slow one, rather a story that takes its time but keeps things moving without ever hitting the audience over the head with its twists and turns. As such, it perhaps strays dangerously close to being uninvolving. By the time you reach the final scenes, which might have been sensationalised, you find instead it’s difficult to care who lives and who dies. On the other hand, the cinematography, acting, direction and score are all exemplary; it’s close to being great. But the bottom line is, this is a story about women manipulating men, and for all its strengths its themes are as outdated as the inhabitants of Sugar Mountain.
Special Features: Deleted scenes / alternative ending / short film: Cold War / trailer
SUGAR MOUNTAIN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: RICHARD GRAY / SCREENPLAY: ABE POGOS, STORY BY ABE POGOS AND CATHERINE HILL / STARRING: SHANE COFFEY, DREW ROY, HALEY WEBB, CARY ELWES, JASON MOMOA / RELEASE DATE: UK RELEASE DATE TBA