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Triangle (2009)
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by Jay Seaver

"At times maddening, more often intriguing."
3 stars

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.

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originally posted: 03/08/10 06:11:48
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User Comments

2/16/18 danR Nice; though ∞-loop movie only ~20 dead Sallies, defies the law of preservation of Sallie 4 stars
3/16/15 Langano Frustrating at times but comes together at the end. 3 stars
8/27/12 David Pollastrini another great film with a twist at the end. 4 stars
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