Northernmost Alaska. Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a for-hire security hunter/marksman under the employ of an Alaskan drilling operation. His job is to protect the "ex-cons, fugitives and assholes" from the area's indigenous carnivores: bears & wolves. In one instance Ottway spots a grey blur on the horizon. He draws the rifle from his shoulder bag, follows the blur as it nears a trio of workers working on a pipe, and fires. The wolf slumps on the ground and Ottway puts his hands on it's still breathing chest. He feels it's life slip away. Ottway daydreams of his wife (Anne Openshaw); they both lay on a bed with white sheets facing each other, smiling. He writes a letter to his estranged wife, summing up his depression. One night after his shift, in the drilling operation's tavern, Ottway grows sick of the rowdy patrons. He walks outside, pulls out his rifle and sticks the barrel in his mouth. As he is about to pull the trigger, numerous wolf calls echo in the distance. He takes the barrel out of his mouth.
Ottway and many other crewman from the drilling operation board a commuter jet bound for Anchorage, being de-iced on a runway. Ottway stores his rifle in the overhead bin, takes his seat, and closes his eyes. Another grunt, named Flannery (Joe Anderson), wakens Ottway and annoys him with questions about his sex-life. Ottway tells Flannery to either shut up or move. Flannery exits the row and finds a seat elsewhere. As Ottway sleeps the other travelers are disturbed by the turbulent flight. Flannery annoys the others by telling horror stories about airplane crash victims. The plane is rocked by massive turbulence. Ottway awakens; he sees sparks erupting from the cockpit and watches the ground grow larger in his window. He lays himself flat across his row and buckles himself in. He watches the hull tear away.
Ottway lays on the same white bed as before, and stares at his wife. They're covered by a billowy sheet. Ottway awakens in a desolate, snow-covered field, alone. He gets to his feet, surveys his surroundings, and runs in the direction of smoke. Beyond a bluff lies the wreckage of the plane. He scrambles down to the crash-site and happens upon Flannery, injured and pinned under his seat. Ottway helps him up, doing his best to distract him from his bisected seat-mate. Ottway makes his way inside the fuselage where he finds a half dozen survivors. One of them, Lewenden (James Badge Dale) is spurting blood from his abdomen. Hendrick (Dallas Roberts) comforts Lewenden, telling him that he'll pull through. Ottway takes one look at Lewenden and tells him as tactfully as he can that he will succumb to his wounds; that death will feel like a warm blanket that slowly overtakes him, and to accept it while thinking about his daughter. Lewenden slowly passes, to the shock of the survivors around him.
Ottway takes a headcount of the survivors: Hendrick, Diaz (Frank Grillo), Talget (Dermot Mulroney), Burke (Nonso Anozie), Flannery, Hernandez (Ben Bray), and himself. Most of the survivors prove to be willing to follow Ottway's advice, since he is a professional survivalist, but Diaz is the lone dissenter. Diaz finds the corpse of one of his superiors. He steals his watch, which he claims to have a GPS beacon, and is about to steal the man's expensive wallet before Ottway stops him. Diaz throws the wallet in Ottway's face and returns to the fuselage. Ottway walks past the rear portion of the fuselage and sees movement within. He excitedly calls for the others to come help, but is swiftly taken off his feet by a pair of grey timberwolves. He punches the two wolves, who gnaw at his arms and legs, and is saved by Talget and Hernandez who scare off the wolves. The survivors listen to the howling of the wolves that have surrounded the crash site. Ottway carries a torch to the perimeter of the fuselage and shines light on a dozens wolves that have them surrounded. One-by-one the wolves back away. Ottway theorizes that they are either in the wolves' territory or the wolves are simply passing through. He hopes for the latter, and prays that they aren't anywhere near a den. Ottway tells them that someone will need to stay up and keep watch; they will all take two hour shifts. Ottway takes guard duty first, and is soon relieved by Burke. Ottway slips into a dream of his wife, before being awaken by the dozing Burke. Hernandez has third watch and keeps himself awake by playing his son's Nintendo DS. Nature calls, so Hernandez leaves his post to pee. As he lowers his torch he is torn apart by a pair of wolves. His cries go unheard.
Ottway is the first to awaken and finds the remains of Hernandez strewn across the camp. This makes matters worse because the wolves killed Hernandez, but didn't eat any of him; this was a territorial kill. Ottway tells the others that they can't stay at the crash site any longer, as it provides little defense to the wolves. He points to the trees in the distance and tells them that the forest should provide ample cover from attacks. This upsets Diaz. He tells the others that Ottway has no plan, and that they ought to tough it out and wait for rescue. Ottway tells the others to make their own choice and packs his bag. He finds his rifle bag, but the rifle is broken and beyond repair; he grabs the few remaining shells and pockets them. He also finds the note he had written to his wife, and pockets it. Hendrick volunteers to go with Ottway, and Ottway tells him to gather the wallets of the dead to give to their families. Eventually all five agree to go with Ottway. At sunrise they set out toward the treeline with Flannery bringing up the rear. Flannery nurses his wounded leg and complains that the others are going too fast. A small pack of wolves appears and takes down Flannery. The others stop and run back to save him, but aren't fast enough. They take Flannery's wallet and leave his body in the snow.
The five remaining survivors reach the treeline and barely avoid being eaten by the wolves nipping at their heels. They tumble down a snowbank into the forest and hurriedly assemble a fire. They listen as dozens of wolves surround them, but don't attack. A loud shriek of pain and growling erupts from one direction. Ottway recognizes the sound of the Alpha wolf being challenged by another male, and says the Alpha won. He describes that when an Alpha is challenged, and loses, the pack will regard the victor as the new Alpha. Ottway tells them all to take long sticks, sharpen the ends, harden them in the fire and tape his rifle shells to the pointed ends of the sticks. If any wolf gets too close, stab it with the bullet-end of the stick. The bullet should discharge and give the wolf a nasty wound. Diaz is the most irritable of the bunch. He elbows Talget in the face and threatens mutiny against Ottway and throws his shock-stick away. Diaz pulls a knife on Ottway, but Ottway swiftly disarms him and knocks him to the ground. As Diaz gets to his feet he is face-to-face with a giant wolf only a few feet away, staring at him -- The Alpha. The Alpha is easily twice the size of any of the wolves they've seen so far, with jet black fur and green eyes. Ottway orders them all to stare back at the Alpha and to hold their ground. Diaz is the only one to take a few steps back. The Alpha backs away into the shadows. Diaz asks Ottway what the Alpha wanted. Ottway tells him, "to kill you"; Diaz is humbled. He begins to apologize for his actions, but is swiftly taken off his feet by a smaller, lighter wolf. The others stab the wolf with their shock-sticks and manage to kill it. The howling of the wolves around them goes silent. Ottway tells them that this is the Omega -- the banished wolf who attempted to dethrone the Alpha, and lost. He attacked Diaz out of desperation of social acceptance. While Diaz repeatedly stabs the Omega, Ottway tells the rest to "find the longest, biggest stick we can find and shove it up this thing's ass. 'Cuz we're going to cook it, and then we're going to eat it, and they're going to watch us do it." They gorge themselves on the meat of the Omega while Diaz, filled with primeval adrenaline, cuts the head off of the Omega and chucks it into the woods. This elicits a long collective howl of the wolves which surround them.
Ottway tells them that they have to move to a more defensible position. They move further into the forest with torches in hand. Burke coughs and sputters, and asks for a rest stop. Ottway find a suitable place to rest - a dead end - saying that in a dead end they can only be attacked from one direction. They set up a fire and Burke falls asleep. Talget tells the group of his daughter he had with is ex-wife, and her waist-length hair, and how she's the only thing that's keeping him alive. Diaz says his only motivation is to have sex again, as his last encounter was with a 54 year old Alaskan prostitute with numerous STDs. Ottway shares little about his past, only telling them about his childhood. He reflects on a memory he had as a boy, sitting on his father's lap. He recites a poem written by his father about embracing death. Burke violently awakens and speaks of a young girl, before drifting back to sleep. The group collectively asks who the girl is, and Hendrick answers - she was Burke's little sister who died thirty years earlier. Burke is showing signs of severe hypoxia, most notably hallucination. Thunder echoes from the distance, a bad storm is coming. The next morning Talget, Diaz, & Hendrick huddle together as the blizzard pounds them. Ottway shouts at Burke to wake up, but Burke shows no signs of life, having died in his sleep.
Hendrick takes Burke's wallet, while Ottway searches for civilization. Ottway comes across a freshly cut tree stump, tagged with an orange sticker. The forest has been recently lumbered. The group hears a river nearby, and they run for it. They reach the river, which sits a hundred feet below the sheer cliff-face upon which they are standing. Ottway tells them that they must follow the river, as it holds the greatest potential of civilization and rescue. They must rappel down to the river from the cliff-face, and they must do it quickly because the wolves are hot on their trail. One of them must jump off of the rocks into the trees across the river, carrying a rope behind them. The rest will cross the rope into the trees, and they will all climb down to the river. Hendrick takes the charge of jumping into the trees. After a frightening plunge, Hendrick secures the makeshift rope and orders the rest to hurry across. Diaz crosses first, and is soon followed by Ottway. Talget, who admits to being afraid of heights, follows last. As he nears the middle of the rope, Talget's glasses are swept off of his face and his bloody hand causes him to snag the makeshift rope. The rope is torn in two and Talget swings across the river and slams face-first into a tree before falling painfully to the ground below. Through his eyes Talget imagines his young daughter, with her waist-length hair towering above him; her hair dances across his face. In reality a wolf pack devours him and drags him back into the woods. Diaz frantically descends the tree in an attempt to save Talget. He leaps from a high branch and lands awkwardly on his leg, hurting his knee. Hendrick takes Talget's wallet and the three follow the river.
Diaz brings up the rear of the trio, hobbling on his good leg. He winces every time he puts pressure on his wounded knee. After a few miles Diaz stops. The other two turn back to check on him, and Diaz tells them to go on without him. His tank ran out of gas five miles ago, and he is done. Diaz reaches into his back-pocket and gives the shocked Hendrick his wallet, and passes the GPS watch to Ottway. The three, for the first time, exchange their first names: Diaz' is John, Hendrick's is Peter, and Ottway's is also John. Diaz faces back at the mountains they've climbed over, and implies that the beautiful image is meant to be the last he sees. He props himself up against a log and looks at the vista. Off-camera a growl is heard.
Hendrick and Ottway make their way along the river bank, trudging through 3 feet of snow. Hendrick asks Ottway the question that has been bothering him all week: Hendrick saw Ottway leave the bar with his rifle after his shift was complete, and Ottway had the same look of defeat on his face that Diaz had a few hours earlier. Hendrick asks if Ottway planned to kill himself. Before he can answer, two wolves come bursting out of the treeline, sprinting after them. Hendrick slips and falls into the icy river, and Ottway follows a minute later. Hendrick drifts down river, is pulled under by the current, and gets his legs lodged in a pile of rocks. Ottway dives down to save him, and attempts to breathe air into Hendrick's lungs, but Hendrick continues to struggle and drowns himself. Ottway shouts profanities at God, telling him to forget faith and give him a sign. Nothing comes.
Ottway drags himself out of the water, with Hendrick's backpack in his hand. He sheds much of his drenched outerwear and treks deep into the forest. He comes to a clearing, and feeling defeated, he drops to his knees, pulls the white bag out of Hendrick's backpack and withdraws all the wallets within. One-by-one he opens the wallets and looks at the pictures of the men and their families, before stacking them on a pile before him. He daydreams of his wife again. The two lay in the same bed with white sheets, only this time we see an I.V. dripping behind the wife. Ottway pulls out his own wallet, and stares at the picture of his deceased wife, and finally places it atop the pile. He takes the letter he had written to her, unfolds it, and places it on the stack. He hears rustling around him, and finally takes in his surroundings: dead animals carcasses, antlers, bones, all in one concentrated location. Ottway gets his sign; he is in the wolves' den. A dozen wolves surround him, and the Alpha appears before him, challenging him. Ottway recites the poem written by his father. With what little energy he has left Ottway reaches into his backpack, grabs three small bottles of booze pilfered from the plane and tapes them between his fingers. He then takes his knife and tapes it firmly into the palm of his other hand. He shatters the bottles, creating broken glass-knuckles. The Alpha growls, Ottway shouts, and the two run at one another.
AFTER THE CREDITS
The Alpha lays on it's side, struggling to breath. Ottway's head rests upon it's side. His fate is unknown.
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