Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Triangle (2009)

Christopher Smith is an English director who specializes in postmodern indie horror movies - films that successfully strive to be a bit more than the sum of their borrowed parts.

This one, made just before Black Death, pointed strongly to his evolution as an interesting 'original' voice in the genre.

It's going to be hard to discuss without laying down a few spoilers, so in this instance I won't try all that hard to avoid it.

First let me say that no matter how bad the movies they feature in, there is something about ghostly empty liners from the 20s or 30s that has always appealed to me. There's inevitably a bit of Shining-au-mer about this particular horror trope, and in Triangle the quotations are explicit. Smith's achievement here is to take a potentially over-familiar format and keep the viewer guessing throughout.

The liner in this story, the Aeolus, becomes the core scenario (and then rather oddly un-becomes it in the third act) for a set of nested repetitions and duplications which appear to revolve around the character Jess, played by Melissa George. In perhaps the movie's most striking scene, a dying woman crawls into a corner of the deck where two dozen or so versions of her dead self lie in various states of decomposition and perforation by seagulls.

The plot is clever enough that Smith probably had to scribble it out diagrammatically before he started typing. Clearly he would have liked it to be a bit more that just structurally clever, but in this there are signs that he struggled a bit. He does after all seem to be a better director than he is a screenwriter, and whilst we had no quibbles with his ability to involve us and occasionally chill us right through to to the conclusion, the narrative has one or two weak points, at least when one pauses to consider it, in the round.

Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian suspects that the premature disappearance of a female character called Heather is a plot hole. No, not really...she just drowned. But why introduce her in the first place if she is going to be demised somewhat contingently before the main engine of the plot has kicked in? (More worrying perhaps is what happened to the character with the hole in the back of his head at the end of the initial repeat.)

The plot doesn't have obvious holes, but Smith had to make a couple of obvious compromises to keep things together. Firstly, although at one point there surely must be three Jesses in operation, we only ever see two. Secondly, the re-initiation of the cycles can only really happen if Jess goes (inexplicably) from full awareness of her predicament to a vague sense of déjà vu.

There is also an apparently throw-away splice point in the narrative, when we see Jess considering her reflection in a cracked mirror and then follow the reflection out onto the deck. If this moment had any significance, it's not something I have sorted out after a single viewing!

And as mentioned above, Jess's assumption that the recapitulations were localised to the liner was one that I think was worth hanging on to, in the name of overall mythological sense, in spite of the mild twisty moment served up by the pile of dead gulls on the beach.

The all-Aussie cast has done a fairly competent job of appearing to be American, unfortunately the same cannot be said of the Australian coast's efforts at resembling Florida.

Still, an impressive, thought-provoking if not resolving chiller flick, which shows the kind of cleverness that can be derived from the UK's stupidity tax (Lottery funding).


No comments: