Synopsis: When Jess sets sail on a yacht with a group of friends, she cannot shake the feeling that there is something wrong. Her suspicions are realised when the yacht hits a storm and the group is forced to board a passing ocean liner to get to safety, a ship Jess is convinced she’s been on before. The ship appears deserted, the clock on board has stopped, but they are not alone... Someone is intent on hunting them down, one by one. And Jess unknowingly holds the key to end the terror.
An unhinged, compelling central performance from Melissa George and a truly bewildering supernatural jigsaw puzzle of a plot are two (but by no means the only two) elements of Christopher Smith’s Triangle that make it such a surprisingly satisfying white-knuckler.
Shot by a British director with UK dollars, utilising an all-Aussie cast and Queensland locations doubling as Florida, Triangle is a film that teeters on the edge of implausibility on so many occasions (not the least of which are some very broad faux-American accents). But it never lets the audience out of its grasp, however tenuous at times. Its genre roots are obvious – in Hollywood pitch-lingo, it would be “The Shining meets Groundhog Day, with a little Final Destination mixed-in” – but Triangle’s creative team are asking a lot more of their audience than just to sit back and enjoy the jolts.
Solidifying her status as the most reliable actress for horror film leads working today (30 Days of Night, 2007; Turistas, 2006; The Amityville Horror, 2005), George stars as Jess, a frustrated, anxious mother of an autistic child who is about to enjoy a cruise with her new beau, Greg (Michael Dorman). There is something askew – things seem strangely familiar, as if she is trapped in an endless déjà vu existence; she awakens from a long sleep on board the yacht and is immediately worried for everyone’s safety.
This freaks the rest of the crew out somewhat – the obnoxious Downey (Henry Nixon) and his shrill wife, Sally (Rachel Carpani); the lithesome good-time girl, Heather (Emma Lung); and the cocky young crewman, Victor (Liam Hemsworth) – but their worries are soon refocussed when a freak storm capsizes their craft and they are left clinging to its overturned hull. Things turn increasingly menacing when a ghostly cruise-ship, The Aeolus, appears to rescue them, though its corridors and galleys are completely abandoned. Soon, the survivors are glimpsing a hooded figure in the shadowy corners of the empty vessel; they become separated in their state of heightened anxiety, and horrible things begin to happen.
All of which would make a terrific thriller in its own right, but Smith (who directed the pitch-black 2009 horror comedy, Severance) has greater ambitions for his narrative than just cheap thrills, however well-executed those thrills may be. Why is it all so familiar to Jess? Why is the boy’s toy sailboat so prominent? What is the relevance of the legend of Sisyphus, the son of Aeolus in Greek mythology, who was condemned to a punishment that would never end? Where has the body in the water gone? Who was the cab driver? What do the seagulls mean...?
Triangle has been compared to the equally-intricate Christopher Nolan film, Memento (2000), and not unfairly. But whereas Guy Pearce’s Leonard has cracked the code and methodology by which to explain his life, Triangle cranks up the high-stakes tension by not affording Melissa George’s Jess that luxury. With a killer/killers on board, her son waiting at home for her (or is he?), and bodies piling up around every bend, it is no wonder the blogosphere is full of guessing games and wild interpretations as to the fractured reality of Jess’ conundrum.
Smith takes one too many sips from the trough – the film’s tension and audience involvement hits its peak about three-quarters in, and the director has a tough time maintaining the excitement through to the conclusion; it had a few too many endings, most of which just added to the confusion.
But like Memento and, perhaps more fittingly, Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (2001), Triangle offers instances of gleeful, electrifying suspense (I challenge anyone not to utter a gasp during Rachel Carpani’s final moments as Sally) and moments of blinding recognition, when you think you’ve figured out Jess’ mystery, only to have Smith twist the screws a little tighter, blur the reality a little more. You’re never quite sure what you’re watching, yet you are engrossed and loving every ambiguous moment.
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