Jack Ward (Daniel O’Reilly, Meteor Moon, D-Railed), the protagonist of The Girl on the Mountain is a man hunted by guilt. A conductor and composer, he was so devoted to his art that everything else, including his family, came second. As a result, he blames himself for the tragedies that befell them.
He’s come to the mountains, possibly to kill himself, but in the film’s opening minutes he fails to find the courage to pull the trigger. Which is a good thing because while washing up in a river he sees a ragged young girl, Aria (Makenzie Sconce, Firefall: An Epic Family Adventure) stealing his backpack. Catching up with her after she conveniently trips, he discovers she’s mute and communicates with sign language. Which, equally conveniently, Jack also knows.
Having introduced the viewer to the two leads, The Girl on the Mountain proceeds to fill in some backstory via flashbacks for both of them. In Aria’s case, it’s of her father, Big Al (D.T. Carney, Amityville in the Hood, Left Alone in the Snow) beating her mother. Jack recalls his wife blaming him for their daughter’s death before killing herself, her suicide note a final accusation.
Unfortunately neither is staged very well, especially Jack’s which comes off melodramatic and overwrought, much like his attempt to kill himself after it despite Aria laying there watching or his conversation with God shortly after. Eventually, we find out that Aria stabbed her father after watching him beat her mother one too many times. It didn’t stop him from killing her though and now he and his buddies are looking for her so there won’t be any witnesses.
If all of this sounds like a cliched tale of a troubled man finding redemption by way of violently defending the weak and vulnerable you’re right. The Girl on the Mountain is a by-the-numbers thriller that pretty much goes where we expect it to when we expect it to. The two bond over fishing and splashing each other in the river while Al musters his troops, Will (Lorenzo Leonard, Taven, Quiet Kill), Bo (Ryan Kos, Quarantine L.A., Black Friday) and his less than enthusiastic brother Roy (David Holt, Scalp, Papa).
One would think that after six years away from directing, writer/director Matt Sconce (Altar, Sleeper) would be pulling out the stops to make The Girl on the Mountain stand out. Instead, he seems to just go through the motions, getting things from plot point A to plot point B with a minimum of fuss. He does occasionally try to give the film an original touch, but it tends not to work. For example, Jack brought his daughter’s favourite dress with him and it just happens to be a perfect fit for Aria who needs a change of clothes after a week in the woods. It’s meant to be heartwarming, but the coincidence is more likely to make your eyes roll.
When we finally find out what happened to Jack’s daughter, it’s another of The Girl on the Mountain’s hard to believe moments rather than an emotional one. His daughter was hit by a car walking home from school after he failed to pick her up. We see him at work conducting an orchestral performance, so why would he be expected to pick her up instead of her mother? And why did she wait until after dark to start walking home? Why not call her mother, or more importantly, why didn’t her mother come looking for her? It seems odd he’s ready to kill himself over what fairly obviously wasn’t his fault.
But ultimately where The Girl on the Mountain fails the hardest is as a thriller. Apart from the scene of Aria’s mother being killed, there’s nothing remotely thrilling or suspenseful going on until the last twenty minutes. We see Al tell his guys to get in the truck around the halfway mark and that’s it until the last they reappear in time for a quick chase and showdown. We also never learn where Jack learned to set booby traps, throw a knife so accurately and such. Was he in the military? A prepper? Or did he just watch a lot of action films? Or maybe the film did say but I was yawning too loudly to hear it.