A deceptively cheerful scene opens “Three Peaks,” the new film from director Jan Zabeil. It’s summertime in Italy and families are merrily playing in the pool. One of them is a couple exploring their new relationship with a son. But this seemingly idyllic vacation eventually becomes one that they and, unfortunately, audiences will want to forget.
Following our introduction to this family, the setting changes to a cabin in the mountain, where the quietness and isolation brings underlying tensions to the surface. While the new father figure Aaron (played by Alexander Fehling) hopes to ingratiate himself with son (Arian Montgomery) and mother (Bérénice Bejo), it’s clear that both have not fully moved on. Like a metaphorical elephant in the room, the memories and continued communication with the biological father threatens to put a damper on this precious time together. And as the trio seek to build their new family through intimate activities and bonding, their relationships are further put to the test when one of them disappears.
With high altitudes come low levels of oxygen and that is certainly the case in “Three Peaks” both literally and figuratively. Despite the idyllic scenery (captured beautifully by cinematographer Axel Schneppat) and relaxing atmosphere, the conflicting feelings within the film’s central family appears to have “sucked the oxygen out of the room.” So much of the narrative is dedicated to labored scenes of self-pity and worry that audiences may almost forget that the premise is a family vacation.
Of course, the film isn’t obligated to provide light-hearted scenarios. But the script lacks the intrigue of better films exploring the nightmarish or psychologically challenging situations of the vacation gone wrong. Instead, “Three Peaks” seems to betray its characters for the sake of forced drama. In one scene, the trio is in perfect harmony but in the next, they seem to be sabotaging themselves with concerns of forming too close a bond.
As the plot eventually takes a dark turn upon a sudden disappearance, the film hinges on Aaron. And thankfully, Alexander Fehling is up to the task, muscling his way through the storyline with a committed performance that brings an emotional nuance and tenacious energy that is otherwise lacking. Still, despite his best efforts, Fehling is unable to save “Three Peaks” from itself. By the time the film arrives at its shocking conclusion, it becomes clear that both him and his character deserve better.
“Three Peaks” opens in select theaters June 28 from Greenwich Entertainment.