Danger Zone – Kinoteka 2024

Reviewer: Rachel Kent

Writer and Director: Vita Maria Drygas

Got a parent’s birthday coming up? And they already have everything? Knock your siblings out of the park with the gift of an experience – buy them a tour of a conflict zone. You won’t be the first. Rick Sweeney, founder of Warzone Tours, has been approached by at least one daughter looking to surprise her father.

Danger Zone begins with Rick declaiming portentously, “It was midnight.” He’s describing a visit to Armenia, when he first heard “the sound of war, and felt very at ease.” He’d finally found the adrenalin rush he was seeking, and the inspiration for his war tourism business. Vita Maria Drygas’ film is about a niche travel industry, which caters for those who desire a special level of risk. How you react will depend on your predilections, but by the end you are unlikely to have changed your mind.

The film focuses mainly on four people, two tour operators and two of their clients. Andrew Drury describes himself as a “have- a -life -and -explore-er.” Without mortal danger, life for him is not enough. Andrew belongs in the Ladybird Book of Happy Families. His charmingly appointed home, in a village nestled in the charming English countryside, contains a supportive wife and two wholesome children. A dreadful contrast is the displacement camp he visits in Syria, where no child’s future is certain. He distributes a few miniature stuffed toys.

AJ is a twenty-four-year-old American, raised as a Mormon, who saw Andrew on TV one night and got in touch. He has his own flourishing business and a glamourous partner, Danielle. Yet somehow, life is “stale.” He eagerly embarks on a trip to Mogadishu with Andrew. The humidity plays havoc with his carefully gelled hair, but a near brush with Al-Shebaab provides all the excitement he craved.

Rick’s client is Eleanora, an Italian, who has realised that everything around her “is so shallow and superficial.” She is now based in Las Vegas, perhaps one of the most illusory places in the world. She is drawn to dangerous travel because , as she puts it, it’s “raw, real and rough.” We watch her packing her Longchamp travel bag, and swapping her Birkenstocks for army boots for target practice with some friendly Afghan soldiers.

Rick, fittingly for a member of “the security community,” offers little background information. . He arranges fixers for Eleanora in Kabul, but we don’t see much of him until near the end , when Andrew joins him and his team for a gruesome tour in Syria. A back injury prevented him from joining the military, which, given his interests, would have been his obvious career choice.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for any of these people. Drygas seems to invite our disapproval. We see Eleanora , a bit annoyed when her helicopter ride is cancelled (because the Afghan army need it) –she generously says she can’t blame them. Andrew is seen explaining to his daughter that he takes his own medical kit along – because if he needed an operation , he’d want his own sterile instruments to be used. Never mind about taking up the time and attention of over-stretched medical personnel. He joins Rick and his team to explore a ruined prison in Syria. They find evidence of horrible atrocities (bloodstains, basically), and excitedly take photos. It’s the kind of thing to make most people recoil, while perhaps uneasily remembering how much their kids enjoyed The London Dungeon. Admittedly, by the end, everyone has shown a degree of sensitivity. AJ is appalled by the sight of heavily armed guards among children kicking a ball around on the beach. “You don’t need AK47’s if you’re just around kids,” he tells Danielle.

The subject matter is eye-opening, but it’s uncomfortably clear that some of it is staged. Presumably the travel scenes are real: a brave person with a camera joins Andrew and AJ as they flee a threatening crowd, and Eleanora as she passes a Taliban checkpoint (one of the bravest accompanies Eleonora along a Nevada highway as she drives with one hand, holding her cell phone in the other). However, the night when AJ saw Andrew on television is obviously a re-enactment, with AJ settling down for a normal night of TV watching and then acting electrified by the sight of Andrew. Similarly, a team-meeting where Rick allocates jobs sounds scripted, and there’s an unlikely scene where Eleanora has a conversation with another Italian, in English.

There is one seemingly random image, shot in Las Vegas , of someone in a Batman costume talking on a phone. It’s probably a reference – it recalls that line, actually Pennyworth’s , in The Dark Knight – “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2024 takes place in venues across London 6 – 28 March.

The Reviews Hub Score:

No- frills thrills

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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