Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: Triangle

Dir. Christopher Smith
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 98mins

I watched Christopher Smith's Triangle last night. I normally wouldn't have bothered with a film such as this if it weren't for the fact that it was filmed in Australia and that it features a collection of Australian actors that have been watchable in the past. That it had actually received some quite impressive reviews was something I only discovered after the fact. Impressive reviews for a movie that made a pittance at the box office and went direct-to-DVD in most places. Why this didn't get more of a push by its distributor is not something I am going to pretend to know, but I do know that by film's end I was quite stunned at what I had just watched. Triangle is a taut, emotionally riveting, effective and - best of all - surprising horror chiller.

I can't say I was expecting much, and after the first 15 minutes or so my expectations were being met. So much so that when a mate sent me a text message asking what I was doing I replied "watching a quote unquote scary movie." Ouch. I have no qualms in admitting that I was judging Triangle far too prematurely. I knew the film was of the twisty variety - it's hard to ignore when the marketing features its star Melissa George looking at a reflection of herself as a hooded gun-toter - but the initial passages of this movie really don't tell us anything about where the film is going. Triangle is one movie in which I can quite positively say I had no idea at all where it was going. There's no hint within the opening passages that even suggest the quietly devastating places it visits outside of Melissa George's performance, and even that comes off as affected more than anything else. Even once the first twist occurs (and there's a lot of them!) and I thought it was going one way, it piled another twist on top of that and went somewhere else. And then just for giggles it threw on more twists and then the final act is another divergence and, surprisingly, made everything come full circle and make perfect sense. Well, "perfect sense" in its own universe, but sense nonetheless.

To tell you the plot is both ridiculous and unnecessary. Ridiculous because, well, there really isn't much of one until we start getting into spoiler territory (and bigger spoilers than the general "is she going insane" stuff that the marketing and DVD back cover blurb makes obvious), and unnecessary because the plot is entirely superfluous to your experience of the movie. You're either going to get swept up (pun unintended) or you'll balk at the absurdity of it all. If you must know though, it's about a group of good looking people taking a sailing sojourn. Needless to say, bad shit happens and they end up on an ocean liner that appears to be deserted. Oh my, never saw that before! However, it's like Ghost Ship, but, ya know, not terrible and hackish.

The word I keep coming back to is "impressive". You don't see plotting and structure like this very often in modern day horror titles, especially ones that could have so easily fallen back on the good ol' Bermuda Triangle trope that its title seems to suggest it's going to do. If you're paying attention from the opening shot to the very last then I am sure you will be able to make heads and tails of it all in a general sort of way. Much like Christopher Nolan's Inception, Triangle balances it's multiple levels of reality/dream/fantasy and - dare I say - actually does a better job of it than Nolan's sci-fi blockbuster. Inception is the better film thanks to its technical prowess, scope and budgetary bravery, but let's not deny Triangle its plaudits. Watching this movie with an open mind is a fascinating experience, trying to slot all the pieces of the puzzle together and figure out where everyone sits in the grand scheme of the film's architecture. It's something that can only be attempted once the credits are rolling since Smith continues to throw spanners and wrenches and whatever other work shed tools he can find into the mix. There's even a scene in a tool shed where Melissa George pulls out another implement for use!

The film is, to be really reductive about everything, about reflections. How we look at ourselves, what fates we think we deserve for our misdeeds and the levels to which we will go to try and forgive ourselves for our sins. God may be able to forgive if we prey hard enough and go to whatever Sunday traditions he (or she!) sees fit, but will we ever be able to erase the memories from our own mind? Can we ever truly forgive ourselves? Even if it means destroying our former selves, we can't ever truly escape, can we?

This idea about reflections is most definitely shoved in audiences faces due to Smith and his cinematographer Robert Humphreys. Melissa George is routinely filmed looking at mirrors or having her image bounce off of a shiny surface. I lost count of the number of times I noticed it, actually, and at one point I wanted to scream "I GET IT!" Yes, her personality is fracturing, yes she's looking at her image, but is she truly herself? I GET IT! I took some screencaps just to prove it. There were more, probably, but lost track.

Melinda Doring's production design should be praised. Sure, the references to Kubrick's The Shining are so obvious that a cruise ship couldn't miss them if they were floating in the ocean, but that's part of the charm. The corridors of the cruise ship, the creepiness of these 1920s ballrooms and theatres plus the sunny exteriors of the deck. And as far as continuity goes, it does a surprisingly adept job at keeping track of all the pools of blood, bloodied hand prints, piles of bodies (love that shot of Rachael Carpani discovering her corpse multiplied) and fractured mirrors. It's a shame the visual effects aren't up to scratch, since that's the only aspect that really truly could have been improved to match the rather stellar achievements elsewhere.

Melissa George has never been an actress I've found all that engaging, to tell you the truth. Serviceable, but not much more and yet here in Triangle she gets quite a bit to chew on and handles it with aplomb. I wasn't enjoying her damaged sad sack routine in the earlier passages of the film, but once you figure out what the film is doing (which, as I've said, isn't until very late in the picture) I definitely got it. And that shot of her towards film's end where... well, you know the one? Obviously Smith's talent has something to do with that, but as a culmination of everything George had been doing up until then she's partially responsible for its shock value. I wasn't expecting it and I actually gasped. If this blog is still running in ten years and I do another Design of the Decade is a scene that will surely rank somewhere on there.

Don't look at the images below if you intend on sitting down to watch Triangle. They're very much SPOILER territory... although, even then, when you don't know the context with which they appear it doesn't seem like anything of the sort.

End of image spoilers, feel free to keep reading!

In fact, that entire end passage had me sitting there with my mouth agog. The brutal position it showed of a family deeply resentful of a child with special needs, the brutally sudden murder, George's willingness to be such a complete and utter monster (think of it as Mo'Nique in Precious condensed to a brief 2 minute sequence!), the car crash and the "uh huh!" moment that follows... it's all the sort of thing that make me sit up and wish more movies could be like this. Triangle is 90 minutes long and not a single moment of it is wasted. It is a captivating and strong, scary movie that I'd recommend to anyone who wishes horror films were braver and sticky on the brain. It's a small film, for sure, but one that impressed with craftsmanship, complexity, intelligence and ingenuity. B+


Wings said...

I was surprised by this one, too, and in a good way - my review is here! Wonder when we are gonna see a remake! hah

Wings said...

Oh, and I agree about George. She needs to look less bored or sleepy in her roles. Gah! You're an actress! Enjoy it!

John from Jersey said...

I absolutely love this movie. I have tried on a couple of occasions to show it to a number of people, but the end result always leaves me frustrated when they require me to explain to them what it is they just watched. One of the things I love about "Triangle" is that there are a number of ways to look at it (which in itself ties back into the whole mirror theme) and because of that there are subsequently a number of things to take away from it. This movie doesn't treat its audience like a mob of idiots and doesn't just spoon feed them everything. That, more than anything, insures it will not find a huge audience here in America.

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