It’s unusual that Stephen Dorff gets top billing in “Heatstroke” when his character is really only there to supply exposition and die. He’s really only a minor plot device meant to emphasize the attitude and anger of Maisie Williams’ character Josie and how she hates her divorced dad’s new girlfriend. Dorff gives a solid performance all things considered, but “Heatstroke” mainly belongs to stars Maisie Williams and Svetlana Metkina. I’d only suggest watching “Heatstroke” if you’re a big “Game of Thrones” fan and want to see Williams out of her medieval element and in to something more contemporary. I say that since “Heatstroke” is only a mediocre thriller with barely anything above middling basic stalk and chase fodder to really keep audiences invested.
Williams performance is strong, that’s a given, but the rest of the movie barely has enough narrative to really keep the pacing balanced and consistent. Dorff plays wild life expert Paul, who ventures out to Africa (sans Africans) to research laughing hyenas. He treks out in to the wilderness with his girlfriend Tally, and estranged daughter Josie, who his ex-wife fears is heading in to trouble after being caught with drugs. Paul brings Josie out to spend time with them, and things don’t quite work out when Josie proves rebellious and difficult to get along with. After repeated attempts to win her over, Paul decides to drive Josie to the airport and they become witnesses to an unfortunate scene.
When Tally’s camp is ruined by roaming hyenas, she sets out to look for water and discovers Paul’s jeep overturned and Paul dead. Josie miraculously survives, and now Tally must find safety and keep Josie alive while evading gun runners intent on murdering the pair to obtain their secret operations. Most of “Heatstroke” doesn’t really begin its forward progression until at least a half hour in. Before that it’s really just a lot of bickering and melodrama. Once the gunrunners enter the narrative, “Heatstroke” picks up, but barely. Director Purcell wastes prime acting talent like Peter Stormare, who could have really salvaged the film as the main antagonist.
There’s even the strong implication that a much beloved hyena character Paul raised ends up becoming the reincarnation of the well meaning father, who is constantly watching and guarding over the two women, but even that is barely touched on to really become a gripping plot element. That said, Williams and Metkina have great chemistry, and Williams plays the fish out of water well as the city slicker forced to rely on Metkina’s character to survive through sand storms, and vicious scorpions. Purcell’s film should attract fans of Williams’ series interested in seeing her in a new landscape and with a solid American accent. Beyond that “Heatstroke” is a thriller that barely registers as mediocre.