When Jean-Baptiste Léonetti’s Beyond the Reach begins, it lulls the viewer into a false sense of security, as we witness our protagonist Ben (Jeremy Irvine) breaking up with his girlfriend; signposting the way for what should be a character drama. But then we meet Madec, played by the venerable Michael Douglas, and soon this picture takes on the form of a suspenseful thriller/horror, with a deadly game of cat and mouse taking place in the Mojave Desert. “Beyond this point, there will be monsters”, says Madec in the opening act. He’s not wrong.
Madec is an affluent tycoon; he’s powerful and where he comes from, money talks. And it’s that same form of bribery that earns him a license to go big-game hunting, and Ben has been assigned as his impoverished guide. However as they reach the vast, unforgiving landscape, where the ground is dry and tumbleweeds float graciously across the surface, it suddenly becomes clear to the young Ben that he may well be the target.
It’s Douglas’s sinister turn which prevents this flawed picture falling completely flat on its face. He plays the role with a certain virtuosity, and it’s a role we’ve seen him take on before, with similar character traits to that of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street – a high-flying individual with a sparkle in his eye and a wad of cash in his pocket; manipulative and dangerously determined. Sadly the same level of commendation cannot be extended to Irvine, who turns in a rather wooden performance, though in his defence, he isn’t provided with the most nuanced character. There’s a distinct lack of background knowledge where Ben is concerned, which disallows the chance to engage with his cause, and root for his survival. There is the implementing of an ex-girlfriend narrative, but it feels all too contrived in its execution. Having a human antagonist works well in some regards though, as in the horror genre we’ve grown so accustomed to supernatural beings, whether it’s an alien or a ghost – and having just a man on your tail is more real; more chilling – just look at No Country For Old Men as a prime example. However, Douglas is no Javier Bardem, and with all due respect, he poses something of a lesser threat; not seeming nearly a formidable enough opponent.
The way Léonetti enters right into the action, without much care for setting the scene, suits the unrelenting nature and tone of this piece; though at the same it doesn’t give the director anywhere to go from a narrative sense. The entire middle act is effectively just one monotonous scene in the desert, and to say tedium kicks in would be putting it lightly.