DIRECTED BY: Christopher Smith
FEATURING: Melissa George
PLOT: The mother of an autistic son reluctantly goes on a pleasure cruise with five other
young adults; the yacht capsizes in a freak electrical storm and the party is “rescued” by an abandoned ocean liner.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Triangle is weird, and frankly entertaining, but like Stay, it kept reminding me of other, slightly better, movies I’d seen before.
COMMENTS: Triangle depends so much on its plot twist—which you will be highly unlikely to see coming until about the midpoint of the movie—that it’s difficult to talk about the film without spoiling it, though I’ll do my best. Melissa George does a creditable job and was a good casting choice for the lead: she’s easy on the eyes, tough yet vulnerable, anguished in her misplaced guilt over “abandoning” her autistic son to go on the ill-fated pleasure cruise, and generally likable, all of which makes the film’s ultimate revelation about her easier to take. The rest of the cast does a decent job in supporting roles, but it’s entirely George’s picture. The direction is good: dramatic, suspense and action scenes are handled well, although there’s no single scene that sticks out quite far enough for the movie to hang a hat on. The abandoned steamer—it’s never clear whether it’s a commercial ship or a luxury liner, although it does have a theater and a banquet room—makes for an atmospheric location on a mid-sized budget. As noted, the mystery of the opening builds until about the midpoint, where things begin to get clear; then, it’s mostly a question of details, of following the premise where it will inevitably lead. Unfortunately, where it leads is to a coda that creates more questions than it resolves. It’s safe to say that the movie is more satisfying on an emotional level, as a metaphor for the difficulty of escaping a pattern of self-destructive behavior, than it is on a plot level. Eventually, the script becomes too clever for its own good, gliding casually past the difficult paradoxes it creates, hoping the audience either won’t notice or won’t care. That’s not always a problem in a movie, and along with the fact that the movie never tries to explain where it’s supernatural rules originate, it certainly adds to the weird factor. But Triangle gives off the vibe that it wants to provide a satisfying and complete resolution, something that closes the loop, but can’t quite manage it. When you get to the end, you may wind up asking yourself, where does this story actually begin? With it’s cyclical structure that appears to wrap the plot up in a self-contained ball but actually falls apart on closer inspection, Triangle reminded me of a poor man’s Donnie Darko. Compared to that adolescent angst flick, it’s more coherent but less original, less aggressive in its outrageous plot devices, less emotionally affecting, and lacking in star turns and impeccably orchestrated individual scenes.
Triangle is worthy of a recommendation. But the film compares unfavorably not only to Donnie Darko, but also to the little seen Timecrimes [Los Cronocrímenes] (2007). (To make things as twisted as one of these psychothriller plots, the original Timecrimes is being remade in English and is scheduled for a 2011 release, meaning soon enough we will see people complaining that Timecrimes is nothing but a Triangle rip-off). It shares its central plot idea with the low-budget Spanish picture, and maybe even a little more than that:
Although Los Cronocrímenes and Triangle share the same basic idea, there is no plagiarism going on here. In the Spanish movie, the mysterious masked killer in a black trench coat uses scissors in the Spanish countryside; in Triangle, it’s a rifle on the high seas. On a more serious note, the two movies take very different approaches to explore the consequences of the speculative conceit at the center of their stories, and there are serious discrepancies in their tones and aesthetic strategies. Timecrimes is a hard science fiction story built entirely around plot machinations; Triangle is a moody psychological thriller that’s interested in weirding the viewer out and creating an emotional context missing in the Spanish feature. When I first saw Timecrimes, I thought that it was a brilliant script, but that it could have done better with a glossier production and a bigger budget. The story was fascinating but there was little that seemed truly cinematic about the picture; the locations were minimal, the characters mere pawns, and the script offered opportunities for nerve-wracking suspense that the novice director wasn’t capable of capitalizing on. After watching Triangle tackle the same idea with a higher budget, more expansive locations, and a seasoned crew, I found the main effect was to make me appreciate the discipline and simplicity of the earlier script much more. With no attempt to set a deeper mood or supply emotional relevance, Timecrimes worked like a wind-up toy: you sat back and admired the intricate choreography as the fated events unfolded before your eyes. It took it’s speculative premise and ran with it, adopting a hardcore “what-if” realism. There was an exhilaration in the exhibition of the scripter laying it all out before the viewer, essentially telling you exactly what he was about to do and then still amazing you when he actually did it. Triangle, which tries to hide what’s going on for as long as it can so we can bask in the mystery, seems muddled by comparison. Although it may sound like apostasy coming from me, I guess weirder is not always better.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…as things shift from tempestuous travelogue to maritime slasher to claustrophobic psychodrama, the film limns a brain-bending enigma, trapping us all at once in an unraveling mind, in a never-ending twilight zone – and in the prison house of cinema itself. The circle of this infuriatingly nightmarish narrative seems impossible to square, making it like Alain Resnais’ masterpiece Last Year In Marienbad (1961), only set (mostly) on a boat, in colour, and with a lot of blood… one of the best (and most bewildering) genre films of 2009.”–Channel 4 Film