Jericho Ridge

Jericho Ridge (2023)

Jericho Ridge had its UK première at the Glasgow Film Festival 2024

Will Gilbey has written both Rise of the Footsoldier (2007) and A Lonely Place to Die (2011) for his brother Julian, and Once Upon a Time in London (2019) for Simon Rumley, but Jericho Ridge is his first feature script that he has directed himself – and also involves a radical shift of location from his native United Kingdom to the United States. This geographical transition is marked from the very opening scene by a campaigning ad, clearly audible in the background, for aspirant Sheriff Bob Peck promising to protect Second Amendment rights if elected, as recently demoted Deputy Tabby Temple (Nikki Amuka-Bird) prepares to go back into work for her first time since sustaining a broken ankle that has left her leaning heavily on a crutch and popping pills for the pain. 

Indeed firearms play a key part in the film. Tabby may have left her own sidearm locked up at home when she comes in for dispatch duty at the Clay County Sheriff’s Office on remote Jericho Ridge, but in this mountainous part of Washington State, it seems that everyone, from police to dealers, from Doomsday preppers to Second Amendment freaks, is packing. Just two nights ago a local meth dealer was murdered with an execution-style shot to the back of the head, and only last night the Sheriff’s Office itself was illegally entered and ransacked, with small firearms stolen from the vault. Sheriff Eddie Reynolds (Simon Kunz), Chief Deputy Dennis Bailey (Chris Reilly) and rookie Deputy Walter Judge (Solly McLeod) all head out to follow up leads and make arrests, leaving Tabby to limp her way through her station duties alone, with only drunken meth head Earl Macready (Michael Socha) in the holding cell, and Tabby’s wayward teen son Monty (Zack Morris) on the periphery, to keep her company. Yet as darkness falls, the Sheriff’s Office comes under a sustained, highly professionalised attack and Tabby must call upon all her resources to ensure that she and her son do the right thing and see in the dawn alive. 

The influence of John Carpenter settles over Jericho Ridge like the light snow outside the station. It is no coincidence that Earl in lockup, under siege, and with inscrutable allegiances, shares his surname – Macready – with the similarly snowbound and beleaguered protagonist of The Thing (1982), while the encircled police station obviously evokes Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) – which Carpenter had in turn loosely adapted from Howard Hawks’ western Rio Bravo (1959). Here we are back to the non-urban setting of Hawks, even if those attacking use state-of-the-art automatic weapons and high-powered sniper rifles – and here the protagonist is female, handicapped, and does not have an army of hardened prisoners inside with her to help her fight off the invaders, but only her own wits, courage, resilience, incorruptibility and dumb luck to get her through the night.

Jericho Ridge is a tense, taut survival thriller, observing an Aristotelian unity of time and place that only adds to the sense of ever-tightening claustrophobia. For once Tabby has hobbled into the Sheriff’s Office, we never leave its immediate environs again except via other officers’ dashcams that she watches from the Office’s computer. Under fire, locked in and facing horrific odds, mother and son finally get to have the honest talk that they have been evading for ages outside, and earn a new respect for each other. For even before she was physically lamed, Tabby had long been held back by a terrible ex-husband, and by a patriarchal structure where less intelligent, less capable men get advancement in her place – and no matter how many times she has been put down, she just keeps getting back up on her own two feet. Meanwhile, the Second Amendment comes under fire from all sides, as the desperate and the ruthless will do anything to get their hands on a gun.

strap: Will Gilbey’s feature debut is a Carpenter-esque siege survival thriller set in an isolated Sheriff’s Office

© Anton Bitel