Stunning Debut from Hot Aches Director Kevin Neal

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Oliver Metherell - 21/12/2004

On the basis of Hot Aches alone, Kevin Neal has firmly established himself as a genius of climbing film. In what may be the greatest debut since Leo Dickinson, 'Hot Aches' chronicles a season of Scottish winter climbing. It travels the length and breadth of the country and penetrates beneath the surface gloss to look at a season of Scottish winter climbing. Hot Aches is all about why we indulge in this strange sport. It is almost poetic the way Hot Aches unfolds, with footage from remote corries in the North West as well as the Cairngorms, Ben Nevis and the Central Highlands. The cinematography is impressive to look at with the lead roles being played by the talented Gareth Hughes and Andy McIntyre. There are also some priceless supporting characters. They include Iain 'Cheese' Rudkin as well as Dave Hollinger MIC and his photogenic female friends. It's funny. The film remains true to the characters and lets the humor flow from their personalities and the moment. The interaction between the scenes is complex, but it isn't until the movie is over that one realizes how much went into it and, more importantly, how effectively the story elements work together as a study of the film's theme.

The film tackles it's subject matter in an imaginative and visually exciting style. It is plausible and believable because it's purely character-driven. It's the film's primary asset that it does this and still manages to tell a story whose subtleties are so thought-provoking. The action shots are as tense as any thriller. I've seldom been as uneasy watching any film as I was when I saw Iain Rudkin pioneering a new line up a hollow Grade VI icefall.

These films work best when the dangers hit close to home - when we can identify with the desperation of the main character and ask ourselves, "My goodness, what would I do if I were him?" This kind of emotional involvement is rare in what is, at its core, an extreme sports film. I must again praise the characters. They really struggle when things get tough. Unlike many other climbing films, where the characters may be in bad situations but never lose their Hollywood glamour, these characters are in real danger. They are climbing hard routes on-sight in bitter conditions: There are no bolts or sport-climbing ethics on this film. It took guts to tackle such a difficult subject for the camera and the risks they took paid off in spades.

For the finale, the film captures the reasons why we embrace this strange and difficult game, in a landscape of awe-inspiring beauty: Occasionally, through the clouds, a perfect day greets us. There were tears stinging my eyes at this point, and I don't think I was the only one. With regard to technicalities, Hot Aches falters in just two areas. There are occasional digital glitches and the on-route soundtrack isn't perfect. However, when you consider that the movie was filmed on a single 550 pound camera, in what many considered to be a poor season. And that Kevin Neal traveled from Dover every weekend to shoot 40 days of footage, in hideous weather, then making Hot Aches can only be described as heroic. Is this film worth seeing? Definitely.

Thanks to Montane and Crux for making Hot Aches possible.

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