Friday, December 03, 2010

Film Review: TRIANGLE (2009)

Triangle (2009)
Written & Directed by Christopher Smith

I can remember seeing commercials for this movie when it was in the theaters and thought it looked like a lame "Bermuda Triangle" horror film with a masked killer involved.  As such, I promptly ignored it.

That was a mistake, because this movie is pretty amazing.

It was also before I knew who Christopher Smith was.

Smith has written and directed three films so far (follow the links to see my reviews of the first two), Creep (2004), Severance (2006), and Triangle.  He has a new film in production out on DVD in the UK as I type this (thanks Kelvin!), called Black Death, starring Sean Bean and David Warner.  According to IMDB, it's "set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in England, [where] a young monk is tasked with learning the truth about reports of people being brought back to life in a small village."  It seems to have premiered at Screamfest in October, but I haven't heard anything else about it on this side of the Atlantic.

You can bet your ass I will see that one in the theaters, if it comes to my crappy little town.

Hats off to good friend Mr. Martini for recommending this one.  His recommendation coincided with our viewing of Severance, proving once again that great minds think alike.

Spoilers Ahead!

Well, actually, I'm going to try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, since this is a movie that really works best if you don't know what you're getting into.  However, unlike many films with a bizarre twist, this one is meticulously laid out and if you're paying attention, you'll get a handle on just what's happening before your friends do.

Hmmm.  How to avoid the spoilers?

Well, the story basically revolves around Jess, played by Melissa George (Dark City, The Limey, 30 Days of Night), a single mother of an autistic son, and her day out boating with friends.  She seems a bit dazed as they leave port, and then, while at sea, a mysterious storm springs up, capsizing the boat and stranding the survivors.  Before too long, a mysterious cruise ship, um, cruises by and they get on-board, thinking they're saved.  But the boat is abandoned and shortly thereafter, a hooded killer starts murdering them.  Jess is the only one who is able to figure out what's going on.  But that's not really a good thing for her.

Sort of.

Okay.  While that sounds a little spoilery, it's not.  Believe me.

The acting is pretty solid all around.  Everyone involved is believable and even somewhat likable.  Even the character Heather (Emma Lung), who's really only included in order to raise some suspicions about just who's on the abandoned cruise ship.  Her inclusion is really the weakest part of the film, as Heather serves no real purpose, develops no real connections to the main characters, and is killed in the storm, before the real horror actually begins.  Lung is extremely likable, and adorable, but I'm not sure why the role was even written.

Aside from that, though, there are hardly any missteps in the rest of the film.  There is a bit of a similarity with another excellent film, Nacho Vigalondo's Timecrimes (2007), both thematically and with the design of the masked killer, but the differences in tone and narrative goals are distinct enough to treat it as either coincidence or tribute. 

Smith's dialogue is natural and doesn't give too much away, although again, if you're paying attention, there are subtle clues dropped all along the way about what's really going on with the story.  His direction is also much more confident than what we saw in Creep.  And while Severance was worlds apart in terms of quality, it still didn't show the firm hand that Smith demonstrates here.  Both the writing and direction are streamlined, moving us along smoothly and briskly in order to get us to our true destination: the abandoned cruise ship, The Aeolus.

This in itself is a bit of a clue.  Aeolus, in myth, was the father of Sisyphus (of the famous myth, tormented to roll a bolder to the top of a hill only to have it roll back down every time he was almost finished with his task), and shared the name of the son of Poseidon.  This Aeolus was the ruler of the winds and is sometimes considered a mortal with a magical bag containing the winds, and sometimes as a god himself.

So when the winds suddenly disappear, leaving our heroes stranded in the middle of the sea, in the path of the approaching storm, there's a bit of resonance.  As with the story of Sisyphus, who was a cunning, murderous king who attempted to cheat death.  First, when Thanatos attempted to chain him in Tartarus, he tricked the personification of death and chained him instead.  Ares then freed Thanatos and sent Sisyphus to Tartarus.  Before going down, however, Sisyphus ordered his wife to throw his naked corpse into the public square.  Then, Sisyphus persuaded Persephone to allow him to go return and scold his wife for not burying his body. He then refused to return to the underworld and had to be forcibly dragged back by Hermes.

And thus, was awarded his eternal punishment of endless toil.  A fate that one of my favorite writer/philosophers, Albert Camus, called representative of  the absurdity of human life.  He wrote that, "one must imagine Sisyphus happy" as "[t]he struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart."

And that struggle is exactly what this film is all about.

The crafting of this film is exquisite.  As the story goes on, we see events from the perspectives of each character, and every little detail of the plot is meticulously placed -- even though you may not be aware of it at the time.  Things that you don't think make sense, all come together in the end.

Again, without giving too much away, the scene where Sally (Rachael Carpani) crawls away, bleeding to death from a stabbing, was amazing.  My jaw dropped and everything was suddenly made explicit.  It was a horrifying moment, both in terms of the brutality of the scene, but also as a revelation of the existential corner Jess finds herself in.

This movie was fantastic.  It took my preconceptions and turned them entirely on ear, surprising me with one of the most well-crafted, intelligent horror films I've seen in years.


  1. If it helps, Black Death is already out on DVD here. So if you've got access to a dvd importer -- does go the other way? -- or some more... scurvy way of acquiring films, you're set.

    If you want to own a copy, I can get one for you, as it's quite cheap.

  2. I completely missed the fact that it was finished and released. Let me look around the web for it, and if I can't find it, I'll get in touch with you about picking it up.

    Thanks for the offer!

    Did you see it?

    Did you see Triangle?

  3. Corrected with the accurate Black Death info. Thanks again, Kelvin.

  4. I haven't seen Triangle -- although I sort of know what happens -- or Black Death yet! In the case of the latter, I think it went straight-to-DVD only a couple of weeks ago, but I have no excuse regarding the former. They've both gone to "high priority" on my rental list now though.

  5. Have you seen Timecrimes? I think if you liked it, you might like Triangle. And the other way around. They both tell similar styles of story, but with very different approaches and results.

  6. The closest I got to Timecrimes was a trailer they showed incessantly on Film4 -- a free-to-air movie channel over here -- but I don't recall them ever actually showing it.

    It is also on my rental list. ;)