High concept, tiny budget thrillers are ironically, something of a cliff edge for filmmakers; they’re often either a breeding ground for clever innovation, or they totally fall apart at the seams with wild intentions but not enough resources to follow through properly. And while Howard J. Ford’s The Ledge definitely boasts a meaty genre set-up that makes for a killer hook, actually pulling it off ends up much harder than it looks.
Experienced climber Kelly (Brittany Ashworth) finds her gorgeous European mountain-climbing vacation taking a turn for the nightmarish, when her best friend Sophie winds up dead at the hands of a gang of hyper-masculine city bros. With a video of the attack in her rucksack and only one escape route, she makes for the nearest cliff, soon finding herself trapped without supplies, suspended hundreds of feet in the air, and with the killers giving chase.
It’s a vicious opening act that certainly fires on all cylinders to get Kelly onto the eponymous ledge, and the climbing sequences themselves are impressively shot. But once she’s there, writer Tom Boyle’s script all but stops dead in its tracks. Ford switches gears into more of a survival thriller-come-Mexican-standoff, with the killers hanging over Kelly’s every movement, but without the run-and-gun energy of the chase, that’s where the real cracks start to show.
Namely, a very, very weak script that’s written almost entirely in ’80s movie cliches. Ben Lamb’s uber-macho Joshua, the gang leader and all-round baddest egg, is an incredibly silly stereotype of fragile masculinity that’s so outdated, Lamb’s performance comes across as more high-camp than it does imposing. He’s stocky, well-coiffed and a serial cheater, totally incapable of empathy and seems to only function by insulting his pals or flat-out murdering people. His followers are just that – terrified minions, and by the time we reach their stand-off with Kelly, not only do we want absolutely nothing to do with them, they’re actually the only characters we seem to know anything about.
Ford’s film spends so long trying to buff out the many various and one dimensional personalities of Kelly’s male attackers and their sordid histories, that it totally forgets to sketch out any sort of arc or background for her. There’s a few ropey flashbacks that often play closer to self-parody than backstory, but otherwise she’s just a young, athletic woman stuck on a cliff, and Ashworth has absolutely no emotional history to take from, leaving her performance – much like the character – totally stuck.
There’s no denying that all-in, there’s some fun to be had here in the tenser moments, and Ford and his team’s action and effects work fit with the cheap and cheerful lensing nicely. But without a central character to care about, it’s hard to get even remotely wrapped up in what’s going on, let alone get so much so that you can look past the gaping flaws.
Old-school genre movies are such a goldmine for fun, and while the older releases have a locked-in, tongue-in-cheek charm that we can look back on, newer efforts can’t expect to keep tapping the same wells without any sense of update or modernisation. The Ledge is a perfect example of a genre film that’s trapped in the past; so heavily focussed on hitting the standard tried-and-tested tropes, that it can’t function as a contemporary thriller.
It’s a cat-and-mouse movie that’s more interested in the nastiness of its rapist villains than its actual lead. A film that’s attitude towards its female characters feels tone deaf at best, and actively tokenistic at worst. Something that might’ve worked thirty years ago, but feels frustratingly short of the mark in 2022.