The spirit of Assault on Precinct 13 continues to provide inspiration for filmmakers with burgeoning careers and low budgets. Will Gilbey‘s directorial debut Jericho Ridge doesn’t stray far from John Carpenter’s template of a contemporised siege western, but hits every beat of this taut chamber piece with economic precision. The principal reason to track down Jericho Ridge if it happens to grace  a fleapit near you however, is a tremendous central performance from Nikki Amuka-Bird as the lone cop protecting her station from armed gunmen.

Tabby Temple (Amuka-Bird) returns to her police station in a remote Washington town nursing a semi-healed broken ankle. She also has her wayward son Monty (Zack Morris) in tow, who is tangentially involved in the local drugs industry which has recently seen a big fish in this small pond mysteriously executed. Taking on dispatch duties she has allocated all local manpower by the time the station comes under attack from a pair of organised and highly professional gunmen. Physically impeded and lacking firepower thanks to the station’s cache being robbed the previous evening, so has to somehow make it through the night while she waits for some distant backup to arrive.

Gilbey does everything possible to make sure Tabby’s situation is as tense as possible. Not only is she physically incapacitated, but she’s lacking weapons, fellow law enforcement, and the cooperation of a violent meth head locked in a cell (an enjoyably vile Michael Socha). The intruders are unknown and aren’t giving any clues why they might be targeting the station. Gilbey takes the time to put these pieces in place, using deft character work to organically lay out the precise geography of his limited space. Once that has been established we’re stuck there with Tabby, only leaving via some dashcam which we see through Tabby’s eyes at dispatch. Amuka-Bird takes up the weight of the film as things intensify. She’s a gritty and resourceful heroine, but not a superwoman, often scraping by with sheer obstinance and dumb luck. She’s already in pain with her ankle and Tabby constantly has to improvise and adapt to compensate. As well as genuine acting chops, it’s also a committed physical performance.

While it’s an occasionally brutal thriller with blood and dirt under the fingernails, there’s also a streak of sly humour. Gibley and his performers manage to make this stick for the most part. The small-town mentality between the area’s enforcers and its miscreants is brilliantly mined in one scene, and Socha’s sociopath adds an unpredictable variable into the proceedings which is played for occasional black comedy. It also has the most fun, knowing use of the Chekhov’s Gun trope in recent memory. It wobble a bit in the figure of Solly McLeod‘s bungling but lovable deputy who comes from slightly too much of a position of incompetence for his redemptive arc to truly work, but McLeod plays him with an enjoyable labrador sincerity.

Beyond its steely, exciting and coherently staged action it hits some unusually deep emotional beats for the genre, particularly through the fraying maternal bond between Tabby and Monty. There’s also an underlying subtext of domestic abuse that gets informs Tabby’s character – and is mirrored in Socha’s – but gets slightly overegged in a monologue from Tabby that feels unnecessary given how much resonance Amuka-Bird gives to her terse, pained body language. Beyond this however, there is hardly a second wasted in this excellent debut. It’s a no frills action gem that is scrupulously set-up and ferociously executed.

In selected cinemas from Thu 25 Apr and available on streaming services from Mon 29 Apr 2024