You ever watch a movie, get completely engrossed in it, enjoy every minute of it, and then at the end, you sit back and wonder what the fuck just happened? Welcome to Triangle, the latest film from British director Christopher Smith (Creep, Severance). It’s one of those horror/suspense/supernatural thrillers that I was absolutely fascinated by, but I’m not sure that I should be. It’s complicated.
Triangle stars Melissa George (Dark City, 30 Days of Night) as Jess, an anxious, high-strung waitress and single mother of an autistic child. She’s invited to go sailing by Greg (Michael Dorman) on the boat that he lives on called The Triangle. She’s nervous about the entire affair, not wanting to leave her son alone for too long, but she’s the kind of harried, devoted mother who clearly needs a break from her life. They’re joined on this little adventure by Greg’s friends Downey and Sally, as well as their friend Heather (who they clumsily invited along to try to set up Greg with), as well as Victor, the young delinquent that Greg has taken in. Oddly, none of that really matters, except for Jess’s story.
Along the way, they pick up an eerie distress call that quickly flickers out, and are promptly devoured by a massive, out-of-nowhere storm that capsizes the boat. Eventually, the party finds themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere, trapped on the hull of the overturned sailboat, trying to figure out what the hell to do. From that point, I figured it would devolve into one of those “trapped alone and become each others’ worst enemies” movies. I was wrong. Way wrong. Instead, they eventually catch sight of a massive cruise ship, which conveniently rolls right past them. They clamber aboard, and you can probably guess where this goes next — yep, it’s empty. Not a soul to be found on the thing. No trace of anyone. So now, you’re probably thinking Deep Rising, or zombie attack. Nope, wrong again.
Instead, from that point, Triangle becomes a bizarre, convoluted story that tosses in several different ideas, thoroughly confusing the viewer until the very end (and even after that). It’s a story that shouldn’t be ruined, though to be honest I don’t think I could write a coherent synopsis even if I wanted to. The film focuses on Jess, but it quickly devolves into a clustered mindfuck of a story, involving time loops, dopplegangers, haunted sea vessels, masked gunmen, dead bodies piling up and lots and lots of blood. If you think you can glean the plot from that, you’re wrong. Triangle is a riveting experiment in genre-bending and chaos, a visceral, gripping blow to the head flick that I was going over days after seeing it — in fact, I watched it again, from start to finish, two days later.
Considering its cast of relative no-names and it’s paltry budget of $12,000,000, Triangle is a hell of an achievement. Using virtually no special effects, it falls back on little other than performance, set design and directing. As far as performances are concerned, it’s an interesting study. Almost from the first frame, Melissa George’s character was frustrating and annoying, a shrill, tightly-wound milksop who you want to just shake. Except that you soon begin to wonder — is she really? Is she crazy? Is everyone else crazy? Again, what the fuck is going on? Suffice it to say that George’s performance is actually remarkable and displayed a surprising amount of range. The supporting cast is all good, in whatever limited capacity they’re there for, although Dorman’s Greg is the only one of them who has to do any really emotional heavy lifting.
The abandoned cruise ship isn’t a new cinematic plot device, having been used in other genre films like Ghost Ship and the aforementioned Deep Rising. Here it’s a strange vessel; a massive, cadaverous hulk of machinery that’s as much a character as the actors themselves. Decorating and recreating the vessel painstakingly, director Smith creates a daunting, almost overbearing sense of loneliness on the ship that helps crank the tension up. Not that it’s needed — Triangle is a taut, twisted story even without the atmospherics. The story is so complex and labyrinthine that it’s easy to lose site of the tight directing job. Smith wrote the film as well, and claims it took him two years to complete.
That story is what will make you love or hate the film. There are dozens of twists and red herrings and surprises. The mood is creepy as hell, and there are a couple of moments where I literally said, “what the hell?” as I was watching it. In a good way, mind you. Of course, the problem with such a twist-laden film is it’s hard to give you a good reason why you should watch it. But you should. Even though, to be honest, you might hate it by the end. Because the catch with Triangle is that as densely plotted, complicated, and creative as it is, it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. That’s the problem with movies that tangle themselves up in concepts like time and space and haunting terrors. The writer has to keep things suspenseful and keep the curveballs coming, but still allow the viewer to make sense of it all (unless they’re being deliberately obtuse, which is its own source of frustration). With Triangle, one can’t help but feel that Smith may have written himself into a corner a couple of times, and just said “fuck it” and let the threads unravel, leaving the viewer to try to reassemble the fragments in his or her mind.
In a way, that works in the film’s favor. It may not make sense all of the time, and the ending may not necessarily resolve any of your questions, but damn if it wasn’t an entirely engaging story to try to untangle. Triangle borrows several ideas, but assembles them into a slick and innovative cinematic tapestry, making it feel fresh and interesting. It’s the rare film that’s surprisingly unpredictable. However, you’ll have to determine on your own whether or not that’s a good thing.
TK writes about music and movies. He enjoys playing with dogs, raising the dead, and tacos. You can email him here.