Watching the early scenes of 2009’s Triangle, you may feel as if you’ve seen it all before. It drops a handful of standard-order characters into what seems like a slasher premise, and it looks as if the film is about to adopt the clichéd structure of people getting murdered one-by-one by a mysterious person or entity. But writer-director Christopher Smith has something different and more substantial up his sleeve, mounting a film full of Twilight Zone-level strangeness that’s too delicious to spoil. Triangle is not what the trailers made it out to be – it’s more like a twisty Alfred Hitchcock picture, with splashes of Memento and The Prestige. But even if you watch the movie with this in mind, Triangle will still defy your preconceptions.
A single mother with an autistic son, Jess (Melissa George) rarely gets time to herself anymore. With a day off, Jess agrees to spend her free time on a sailboat with a few companions organised by casual acquaintance Greg (Michael Dorman). Also along for the ride is deckhand Victor (Liam Hemsworth), friend Heather (Emma Lung), and couple Downey (Henry Dixon) and Sally (Rachael Carpani). Unfortunately, a vicious storm suddenly hits which overturns the yacht and leaves Heather lost at sea. Standing atop their capsized boat, the survivors are forced to take refuge inside a passing ocean liner. However, the vessel seems deserted, and Jess is unable to shake feelings of unease as she wanders the eerie hallways.
Triangle was the brainchild of Christopher Smith, who previously helmed the Danny Dyer vehicle Severance as well as 2004’s Creep. Smith reportedly spent two years working on Triangle‘s script, hashing out the narrative and meticulously planning every twist and turn. Hence, this is not your stereotypical throwaway horror-thriller with little lasting value. On the contrary, Smith has created a mesmerising ride which pulls the rug out from underneath you every time you think you’ve figured out what the hell is happening to these characters. Triangle is underpinned with psychological concerns, as well, exploring how much you would be willing to endure to be with somebody you lived, or to right your mistakes.
Smith has stated that he was influenced by 1994’s Pulp Fiction with its play on time, and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining with its claustrophobic atmosphere within an isolated location. It seems that the director also took influence from 1962’s Carnival of Souls, and there are a few similarities to Donnie Darko. Triangle was competently constructed by Smith, who displays a firm grasp on tension-building and mise-en-scène. The initial period on-board the ocean liner is unbelievably creepy, with empty dank hallways and a lingering sense of mystery that grabbed this reviewer’s attention. Triangle never concentrates on gore, but nevertheless provides an unflinching front-row seat to a nightmare in progress. The cinematography by Robert Humphreys is a huge strength, and the movie is filled with striking imagery. If there’s anything to be criticised, it’s the CGI, which reveals the movie’s low-budget limitations. The storm looks like something from an animated movie, and some of the shots involving the large ship look like something from an Asylum production. It’s not a deal-breaker, but such moments do take you out of the movie.
Although Smith hails from England, Triangle was shot in Australia and features an entirely Aussie cast. Luckily, he coaxed some marvellous performances from the actors, all of whom did a superb job of hiding their Aussie accents. If you were none the wiser, you would believe these people to be American. At the centre of the picture is Melissa George, delivering a complex and assured performance as Jess. An attractive actress, George sells a sense of apprehension in the film’s early stages, and nails the character’s transformation to something much darker by the film’s conclusion. She’s aided by a more than capable supporting cast, including Liam Hemsworth, who was taking all the work he could get at this early point in his career.
Suffice it to say, movie-watchers who like to watch films in which everything is tied up in a dainty little ribbon may not like Triangle. It’s one of those movies that has layers upon layers of content to examine, compelling you to rush to internet forums to discuss your interpretations and read the conclusions of others. It’s the sort of film that keeps you asking questions long after the credits have expired, and one that deserves to be watched over and over again. The fact that Smith pulled off the movie with virtuoso technique is another bonus, as Triangle is atmospheric and very intense.