To mix things up a bit, my thoughts that don't quite fit in the eFilmCritic review. Not just because it's nice to do things a little differently every once in a while, or because it's rather apropos for this particular movie, but because a lot of what I want to say is a spoiler (more specifically, a spoiler-filled rant). If you haven't seen it, turn away after the "Also at eFilmCritic" part.
(Okay, one comment - my brother, father, et al, just got back from a Caribean cruise. This might have been a fun one to show them before they left)
* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 March 2010 in Jay's Living Room (Blu-ray)
This review will, at times, be vague, convoluted, and maybe even self-contradictory, but hopefully also intriguing. The primary reason for this is that I like to avoid giving too much away and Triangle goes for its big, not-mentioned-on-the-package surprise fairly early. Which, as clever folks have likely already deduced, is a secondary reason to write it that way - that combination of confusion and intrigue rather matches the experience of watching Triangle, so even if I don't tell you what it's about, I can maybe give you an idea of how it feels.
As the single mother of an autistic child (Joshua McIvor), every morning can be a struggle for Jess (Melissa George), even a Saturday when she's been invited to go sailing with Greg (Michael Dorman), a regular customer at the restaurant where she works as a waitress. It's not quite a romantic getaway, as four others are coming with: Victor (Liam Hemsworth), the nineteen-year-old kid Greg took in; Downey (Henry Nixon) and his wife Sally (Rachael Carpani), old friends of Greg; and Heather (Emma Lung), a friend Sally is trying to set Greg up with. Jess is worn out from dealing with her son, but things will soon get much worse - after a few ill omens, a storm capsizes Greg's boat, but their course intersects with Aeolus, a cruise ship from the 1930s that is curiously empty...
And we'll stop there, because what happens afterward deserves to be discovered as you watch the film. What I will say is that writer/director Christopher Smith is still making horror movies, but he isn't repeating himself; where Creep was an intense running of a gauntlet and Severance featured over-the-top gore and black comedy, Triangle aims to be a mindbender, tossing the audience clues as to what is going on between its thrills and kills, and then, once the trick has been revealed, daring the audience to keep track of all the pieces and spot any flaws in the construction. And, the majority of the time, it works; there's a thrill of recognition whenever Smith does something that explains an earlier scene. Sometimes he leans a bit hard on that explanation, making sure that everybody gets what happened, but other times he will throw things in that are almost but not quite red herrings - they're connected, but outside the immediate narrative.
Which may be a problem, depending on what kind of story you look at Triangle as being. Mindbender stories are at their best when they are meticulous, when you can take every action and every character, put them on a chart, and come up with a complex but tight pattern. Still, this is also a ghost ship/Bermuda Triangle movie, and that's a variety of horror that often works best when left unexplained - or at least, when the explanations are relatively vague and more about emotion than paranormal phenomena. So while certain logical inconsistencies drive me absolutely bonkers - Smith doesn't even try to explain some things beyond "it was set up that way earlier" - there is something perfectly right (and sadly wrong) about the way things feel at the end, and the dangling bits of the script only make it more so.
A lot of that rests on the shoulders of Melissa George. It's not spoiling any huge surprise to say she's the main character, the one we spend the most time following and the one where we have the most built-in interest in seeing her get off the ship. It's an odd performance, in some ways: In the early scenes, it can be extremely hard to connect with her; there's a dull unresponsiveness to Jess that is rather off-putting. Once the characters get on board the ship, though, Jess becomes a more active character, and George handles everything Smith throws at her. And that's a lot; she's in nearly every scene, with the story sending her from one emotional extreme to another. She handles most of it with aplomb, even doing a pretty good job of selling us some of the more nonsensical parts of the story. She handles herself well in the action scenes, too; she's necessarily doubled at some points, but very capable when nothing but a steady, medium shot will do.
That's not to give the rest of the cast short shrift, but it's pretty clear that this is George's movie from the start, and none of the rest are going to be given much chance to upstage her. One thing that is refreshing is that the cast are adults; only Liam Hemsworth's Victor really falls in the "barely old enough to drink" demographic. He is one of the ones I might have liked to see a bit more of; Hemsworth gives him a nice self-confident vibe.
Like the story, the production of the movie is kind of a mixed bag. As in his previous films, Smith displays a strong grasp of tone and pacing. He never goes for the inappropriate laugh that tempts other horror filmmakers, for instance. And he keeps the story moving at the right speed, supplying jolts of action when needed but giving the audience just enough time to mull over what's going on. The set of the Aeolus is impressively detailed - there's not a bit that doesn't feel realistic, even if he does manipulate it in a way to make certain scenes surreal. On the other hand, water still seems to be tough on CGI artists with a limited budget; some waves look really good, others not so much. Some splashes are just cringe-worthy.
I applaud Smith for his ambition with Triangle; he challenges himself and the audience with his story, and as much as it makes writing this review harder, I love that he kicks the audience's collective legs out from under them early rather than later (not a lot of filmmakers give themselves that sort of time to play with their cool idea). Writing this review, I see how some of the pieces fit together better than they seemed to at the time, and I'm all for movies making you think, but this one is as likely to lead to frustration as satisfaction afterward.
Also at eFilmCritic
Okay... Anyone reading on from here clearly doesn't care about having the movie spoiled for them, either because you've either already seen it or because you like those trailers that tell you the whole story or because you just don't care.
Anyway, the words I was desperately working to avoid above were "time travel"; Jess periodically seems to slip backward in time, so that she's already on board Aeolus when the wreck of the sailboat arrives, and she deduces that the cycle starts over whenever she kills the rest. That's kind of a leap; what sane person jumps to that conclusion (it may just be a fixed amount of time, for all she knows)? Of course, Jess isn't necessarily a reasonable person, as we see in the final reel.
(My friend Amanda recently mentioned that she likes time travel, though not science fiction in general; so do I recommend this movie to her, since telling her she'd like it ruins the surprise?)
The action on the boat is often curious as well. One thing I really kind of liked was the implication that we're only seeing the first (?) complete loop for Jess, but that others are happening later/earlier/simultaneously: The bloody-headed Jess, for instance, enters and exists without much explanation at all, and then there is the hole full of heart pendants and the deck full of Sally corpses. The latter raises a lot of questions about the mechanism, though; the implication, otherwise, is that everybody other than Jess is only going through this once, encountering multiple Jesses, or at least, Jess at multiple points upon her personal timeline. Otherwise, why doesn't the ship get even more crowded every time a new group boards?
Also, Smith hits us with two huge paradoxes: First, the keychain - when Jess finds it, why doesn't she have two afterward? Maybe she does, but if that's the case, shouldn't the characters notice that she has two and be freaked out? Or maybe she didn't have it before then, in which case, where did it come from? Given the car crash, it makes sense that she wouldn't have them to begin with, but if that's the case, then they more or less appear out of thin air - Jess has no keys, finds them, loops back, and then drops them for her earlier (?) self to find.
And then there's Jess herself. If survivor-Jess who kills rotten-mother-Jess at the end is also the same Jess who gets on the boat at the start... Where did she come from? The most reasonable explanation seems to be that she's a ghost, and even though ghosts (as opposed to ghost ships) aren't ever explicitly discussed, I like that as an explanation in some ways. It becomes a cool twist on the ghost caught in a loop, forever seeking revenge or redemption. The bloody-headed Jess then becomes a Jess from further down the timeline, implying that this is going to go on indefinitely - that ghosts, like people, can't break out of their patterns.
Which isn't a bad deal for a ghost story. The trouble is, I wasn't thinking ghosts until a full night of sleep and another movie later. But I may be overthinking things, or I may have missed something really obvious. What say you?