Director Christopher Smith is slowly emerging as one of the most interesting young filmmakers currently operating in the thriller-horror genre. Having cut his directorial teeth on the superbly spooky London Underground-set “Creep,” Smith changed tack with his follow-up, “Severance,” a grisly horror-comedy. Subverting the genre is clearly something Smith seems particularly comfortable with, even intrigued by, so it should come as no surprise that his latest offering, “Triangle,” ventures rather neatly into psychological thriller territory, albeit with a delicious twist.
Young mum Jess (Melissa George) leaves behind her autistic son Tommy (Joshua McIvor) to go on a boat trip with a motley crew of friends, a trip that very swiftly takes a turn for the worse as a sudden and brutal storm batters their sloop, leaving them at the mercy of the open ocean. From the outset, Smith instills a very uncomfortable tone, choosing to eschew the conventions of the genre by utilizing very bright natural lighting, lending the picture an uneasy sense of realism. Jess is evidently a troubled soul, so the mysterious appearance of a ghostly cruise liner does little for her state of mind. As it transpires, the S.S. Aeolus is not the Carpathia that they were hoping for, as all that greets them are long, seemingly deserted corridors reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel (complete with Room 237 detail) in a knowing nod to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” Eerily, Jess begins to exhibit some of Danny’s shining ability as she reveals to her companions that she “knows” the ship and begins to experience premonitions and déjà vu.
Smith portrays his very evident horror-movie competencies, as the exposition of the mystery surrounding the S.S. Aeolus is tonally incredibly tense. As bloody messages begin to appear and shadowy figures scuttle down endless corridors, Smith finds himself at the helm of a highly atmospheric “Ghost Ship”-esque thriller. But seemingly not content to let genre conventions play out, he throws in a curveball that comes way out of left field, as the group is mercilessly picked off by a callous killer.
Initially, Smith’s “Twilight Zone”-meets-“Groundhog Day” premise is an intriguing proposition, which when coupled with Jess’s increasingly fragmented persona (nattily reflected by jerky camera work and quick cuts) suggests that “Triangle” could have been one of the most intelligent and considered genre pictures in years. But while George delivers an effective turn as the volatile Jess, her wafer-thin supporting cast give her little to work with while Smith betrays such a lack of faith in his audience by needlessly signposting plot points (whereas the enjoyment should lie in piecing together the puzzle), that eventually the hook becomes a bit laboured and the film peters out toward its (by now) inevitable conclusion.
As a result, “Triangle” seems like a missed opportunity. Had Smith given his audience more credit, “Triangle” would be drawing comparisons with recent psychological thriller stalwarts such as “Memento” and “Identity.” Indeed, any picture that explores issues as interesting and diverse as karma and Sisyphean tasks reveals undoubted ambition. Frustratingly yet encouragingly, Smith may well be a picture away from hitting top form.
(originally featured at www.criticsnotebook.com on 14/10/09)