Category Archives: Psychological Thriller

Review – It Comes At Night (15) [2017]

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • Trey Edward Shults – Krisha

Cast:

  • Joel Edgerton – Animal KingdomWarrior, Zero Dark Thirty, Exodus: Gods And KingThe Gift, Red Sparrow
  • Riley Keough – Magic Mike, Mad Max, We Don’t Belong Here, Welcome The Stranger
  • Christopher Abbott – Martha Marcy May Marlene, A Most Violent Year, Criminal Activities, Tyrel
  • Carmen Ejogo – The Purge: Anarchy, Selma, Alien: Covenant, Roman Israel, Esq.
  • Kelvin Harrison Jr. – The Birth Of A Nation, Mudbound, Assassination Nation
  • Griffin Robert Faulkner

Music Composer:

  • Brian McOmber – A Teacher, Krisha, Collective: Unconscious, The Last Shift

There are some films that are titled in such a way as to give viewers the wrong impression of the movie. Silence of the Lambs was about a serial killer and had merely a passing mention to its title; Heavenly Creatures was not about idyllic angels placed on Earth, but two psychopathic, pretty girls; and Batman v Superman was merely a headache-inducing, money-spinning ruse of a title to kick start the Justice League franchise. Similarly, It Comes At Night is mistitled and, consequently, misdirects its audience in a negative way.

Paul (Joel Edgerton) questioning Will (Christopher Abbott), who he has tied up to a tree and gagged, after Will broke into his house.

It Comes At Night is a film, set in an eerie forest in America. Disease/plague is rampant and Paul (Joel Edgerton), the militant patriarch of his family of three, will do whatever it takes to make sure his family do not become infected; even going so far as not to let anyone open the front door without his permission, to ensure that the disease does not come in.

But one day, a stranger called Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into his house and begs for them to let him and his family enter. They have no other way of surviving the plague. Paul is suspicious, but lets them in. However, not long after Will and his family arrive, Paul’s son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) finds the front door open. Who did it? Who has potentially let the disease into the house?

  It Comes At Night is a bad choice of title considering it is a film about (incurable) disease, the fear it brings, and the behaviour (paranoia) it manifests in people as a result. Nonetheless, disease does not just come at night; it can come during the day too. This is the first problem with the movie.

The second is that the film’s title does not epitomise the movie it wants to be. From the sound of it, one would think It Comes At Night is a paranormal horror film. There are a couple of jump scares, but not enough for the movie to be marketed as a horror film. Very soon, it becomes apparent that the tone of the movie is wrong for a horror film and that alone is enough to disappoint viewers (especially horror fans).

The door before the front door that must remain locked at all times, and only Paul has the key to it. Paul reckons it is the only way to keep out the disease…

If anything, It Comes At Night is a psychological drama. Through Will and his family, the film raises the fascinating moral conundrum that people faced in the Medieval times when the Bubonic Plague was rife: should people show compassion and humanity to others who need help, despite the risk that this could further spread the disease and kill members of one’s own family; or should people close their doors to strangers until the plague ends, despite this meaning many will die who could have been saved?

The film puts up a decent fist of conveying the conundrum. But there three problems with its execution: one is that not a lot happens, which makes for a dull watch; two, the movie is completely devoid of context and we are none-the-wiser by the end of the film as to what has happened to the world and how Paul’s and Will’s respective families have ended up in respective predicaments; and, three, Will does not come across as a trustworthy individual, which has the distortive effect of making viewers sympathies lean heavily toward Paul (and his suspicions/paranoia) over the needs of Will and his family.

The actors themselves are blameless for the way audiences see Paul and Will. Indeed, Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott are really good in their respective roles as two (very different types of) fathers doing their best to save their families. Interestingly, Director Trey Shults believes that the father-son relationship is a crucial element to It Comes At Night as he did not have a good relationship with his father growing up. What this means for Travis and Will’s son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), is anyone’s guess; particularly Travis. Much is ambiguous about him and it would have been helpful if the film explored his personality in greater detail. But again Kelvin Harrison Jr. is blameless and does well with what he is given.

The two families accusing one another, bitterly, of opening the door after Travis finds it open.

Additionally, Brian McOmber’s score growls and helps the audience feel the claustrophobia of the situation. Indeed, it deserves for something to build up to a climax and actually happen (and at night too).

All-in-all, It Comes At Night is a disappointing film. It has a fine cast, an interesting premise, and an important conundrum at its core. For if a disease akin to the Medieval Bubonic Plague returned, mankind may well behave like Paul and Will do in the film. Nevertheless, the sense lingers that something is amiss with It Comes At Night. It is boring, devoid of tension, and incorrectly marketed as a horror film. Ultimately, this all stems from its ill-chosen title.

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Review – My Cousin Rachel (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 2/5

Director

  • Roger Mitchell – Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Venus, Le Week-End

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Rael Jones – White Lie, Suite Française, Harlots, Noor

A psychological thriller should play with the viewer’s mind. The audience should not know the past or the motives of the key characters until they are revealed at crucial moments in the film. It is what gave movies like Basic InstinctGone Girl and Elle an edge and keeps viewers on their toes. My Cousin Rachel is a psychological thriller, but it is so dull. Why?

Philip (Sam Claflin) and Rachel (Rachel Weisz) awkwardly talking over tea upon meeting.

The film is based on the 1951 book with the same title by Daphne du Maurier. Philip (Sam Claflin) is raised by his cousin after his parents die when he is young. Now, almost old enough to inherit his cousin’s estate, he learns that his cousin died shortly after marrying a woman called Rachel (Rachel Weisz).

Philip believes that Rachel murdered his cousin and is enraged to find out that she will be coming to live at the estate. However, his feelings soon get complicated as he becomes infatuated with her, all the while wondering if Rachel will do the same to him as she did to his cousin…

My Cousin Rachel is a psychological thriller set in Jane Austin-era England. Nevertheless, its edge is immediately blunted when our central protagonist, Philip, narrates ‘did she or didn’t she,’ before proceeding to tell us the entire backstory of the movie up to the moment when he learns of his cousin’s death. This ruins the film and ignores the first rule of film-making: show, don’t tell. The audience does not need to have the backstory spelled out for them so early on and this information should have been dished out at the appropriate moments during the film. As a result, the audience’s curiosity of how the characters have come to this point, and how they have come to be who they are, is lost.

The terrible opening is just the start, though, as My Cousin Rachel goes downhill from then on. This is irritating because the film has a captivating premise. A man who falls in love with the possible murderer of his father-like figure should make for a compelling watch as the protagonist’s feelings should drive him to madness. Yet, the movie misses this open goal. Instead, it steers off course and becomes a nauseating calamity about a young man desperate for the attentions of an older woman. What on earth made Director Roger Mitchell think that that would make for a good psychological thriller?

Louise (Holliday Grainger) looking on sadly, as if she feels that she is losing her friend, Philip, to Rachel.

In case that were not bad enough, Philip is implausibly stupid and highly immature. He makes illogical and irrational decisions that test the patience (and the sympathy) of the audience. When a viewer starts to feel their patience wearing thin with the central protagonist, one begins to wonder why they should keep watching him and the film, unless the supporting cast make it worthwhile.

Sadly, this is a mixed bag. Ian Glen brings charm and gravitas to My Cousin Rachel with his Ser Jorah Mormont-voice that can melt butter. Glen does his utmost best with the (limited) script and time he has been given, and it is to the movie’s detriment that he is not given more to do. His on-screen daughter, Holliday Grainger, is unremarkable as the female support for Philip. One has sympathy for her character/Louise and this works in Grainger’s favour. However, Louise’s demeanour reminds one of Grainger’s past roles as Lucrezia Borgia and Anastacia in The Borgias and Cinderella, respectively. This taints Louise adversely. The sense that she may have an ulterior motive is never far from the viewer’s mind, especially as My Cousin Rachel is (or at least is supposed to be) a psychological thriller.

Nonetheless, Glen and Grainger are peripheral characters. It is Rachel Weisz as the titular Rachel that one looks out for. And Weisz is unusually poor here. Her chemistry with Claflin is non-existent and Rachel does not come across as manipulative or dangerous. This makes one wonder what her purpose is to the story (other than to be Philip’s fascination). It is not all Weisz’s fault that she comes across badly. The director does not give Rachel the screen-time or the script to demonstrate her true colours. But, still, Weisz looks disinterested throughout, and this negative energy emanates onto the audience who feel the same way about the film.

Nick (Ian Glen, left) giving Philip some much needed advice about Rachel, as she may not be who she seems.

  My Cousin Rachel, though, is not without its positives. The Cornwall countryside is wondrous to behold and the Victorian, aristocratic mansion that Philip lives in is dark and creepy. These features create a noir atmosphere that is tailor-made for a great psychological thriller. But cinematography alone cannot carry a film, even if it is used to its maximum potential.

Over-all, My Cousin Rachel is a disappointing movie. For a psychological thriller, it lacks the edge that makes films within the genre intriguing and nerve-wracking. The film is not helped by a poor script, key characters lacking in enthusiasm, and a premise that falls short of its promise. Ultimately, My Cousin Rachel is a self-pitying drama instead of a psychological thriller, and that is criminal for the genre.

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Review – Elle (18) [2017]

Star Rating 4/5

Director:

  • Paul Verhoeven – Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, Black Book, Lyon 1943

Cast:

  • Isabelle Hubbert – Hidden Love, Amour, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, Barrage
  • Laurent Latiffe – The Crimson Rivers, Little White Lies, Divorce French Style, KO
  • Anne Consigny – 36th Precinct, Wild Grass, History’s Future, La Deuxième Étoile
  • Charles Berling – Ridicule, Forbidden House, March of the Penguins, Flueve Noir
  • Virginie Efira – Second Chance, It Boy, Up For Love, Pris de Court
  • Christian Berkel – Downfall, Inglorious Basterds, Anti-Social, In Wahrheit
  • Judith Maguire – The Lovers, Jesus of Montreal, Nathalie…, Parisiennes
  • Jonas Bloquet – Private Lessons, The Family, 3 Days To Kill, Valerian and the City of a Thousands Planets
  • Alice Isaaz – The Gilded Cage, Smart Ass, One Wild Moment, Espèces Menacées

Music Composer:

  • Anne Dudley – The Gathering, Black Book, Poldark, Away

How did Emma Stone win the Oscar for Actress in a Leading Role earlier this year? Yes, her performance in La La Land was decent. But it was not Oscar worthy. There were other performances than deserved the award more than hers. One need only look at Amy Adams’ two superb performances in Nocturnal Animals and Arrival to see better performances (both of which were scandalously disregarded even for nominations!). Another performance is that of Isabelle Hubbert in Elle.

Michèle (Isabelle Hubbert) out with friends and drinking wine, after her ordeal.

Elle is directed by Paul Verhoeven and based on the book oh… by Philippe Dijon. The film begins with Michèle (Isabelle Hubbert), a successful business woman, getting raped in her plush Parisian home by someone wearing a ski mask. Who is it? And, more pertinently, why does Michèle not call the police?

Elle is a French psychological thriller. Paul Verhoeven has Showgirls and Basic Instinct in his back catalogue. But neither of those films are on a par with Elle as Elle is highly disturbing and morally bankrupt film, even by the standards of the genre.

The movie revolves around Michèle and the people who surround her: in particular, her friends; her neighbours; her colleagues; her aging mother and her (toyboy) boyfriend; and her delinquent son and his (scummy) girlfriend. Very soon into the film, however, it becomes apparent that our protagonist plays fast and loose with the truth and that she is not just an unfortunate victim of a horrific crime. This is a woman with a bad past and her behaviour is that of a sociopath.

Michèle buying an axe to defend herself against potential future intruders and assaults.

Furthermore, Michèle does not react to the rape like someone who has been raped. (Granted, there is no single reaction to this and everyone reacts differently, but) Michèle displays no hint of numbness or of being shattered, personality-wise. This raises the troubling question of whether she has been raped at all; especially as, before long, her rapist is texting her. How many masked rapists do that? Also, the rapist broke into her house. Why is there no sign of a break in?

These are for Elle to answer. Yet, when the answers come they don’t make sense in the context of the rest of the film. This is very disappointing. One can expect to be thrown off guard by a psychological thriller, for sure. Gone Girl did that with spectacular success and jaws gaped. But with Elle, one merely thinks: huh?

This is not the only problem with the movie. The score is filled with cheap tropes. Foreboding music plays on the nerves when it is unnecessary, where there is no danger for the characters. This irritates the viewer after a while, as the music is as untrustworthy as our central protagonist.

Michèle looking lovingly at her married friend and neighbour, Patrick (Laurent Latiffe).

Speaking again of Michèle, Isabelle Hubbert plays her phenomenally well and covers many of the holes in Elle’s plot. Indeed, all of the actors play really well. Yet, Hubbert is outstanding in the lead role. She captivates and makes her character come alive in a dishearteningly plausible way. This feat should not be underestimated as Michèle is a multifaceted person, who is as envious as she is successful, as underhand as she is shameless, and as villainous as she is a victim. This again forces one to question how Emma Stone won the Oscar earlier this year. Stone’s role in La La Land was not nearly as demanding as Hubbert’s in Elle, and Stone did not hold the attention of the audience as Hubbert does here.

All-in-all, Elle is a French psychological thriller. It has its flaws story-wise, and it is sick and twisted at its core. But it also has brilliant, praiseworthy performances; Isabelle Hubbert’s being exceptional. It is a shame that she has not received more recognition and awards for her role. It is a travesty that she was overlooked in favour of Emma Stone.

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Review – The Gift (15) [2015]

The Gift - title banner2

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Joel Edgerton

Cast:

Music Composers:

  • Danny Bensi – Martha Marcy May Marlene, Enemy, Last Days In The Desert, Christine
  • Saunder Jurriaans – Martha Marcy May Marlene, Enemy, Last Days In The Desert, Christine

In the last dozen years, there have been a string of actors who have turned themselves into creditable directors. Sofia Coppola directed Lost in Translation in 2003 (and was nominated for two Oscars for it). While George Clooney directed and starred in The Ides of March in 2011 and Ben Affleck did the same in Argo in 2013 (and won an Oscar for it). Joel Edgerton seems to be the latest actor to try his luck behind the camera, and his directorial debut is a gem.

The happy couple. Simon (Jason Bateman) showing affection to his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall) whilst convincing her that this is the right house for them to make a home.

The happy couple. Simon (Jason Bateman) showing affection to his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall) whilst convincing her that this is the right house for them to make a home.

Edgerton’s film, The Gift, centres round an ostensibly happy couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall). They have just moved from Chicago to suburban Los Angeles because Simon got a new job. One evening, when they are at a shop buying supplies for their new home, they bump into Gordon ‘Gordo’ Moseley (Joel Edgerton). Gordo remembers Simon from their high school days and is keen to become friends with Robyn and Simon. Simon, though, is not so keen since he remembers how much of a weirdo Gordo was back then. (Simon even boasts that he and his peers called Gordo ‘the Weirdo’ back in school because he was so weird.)

Nevertheless, Gordo goes to their new house when Simon is not around and starts giving them gifts, despite neither Robyn nor Simon asking for any. Soon, Gordo’s behaviour begins to trouble Simon and Robyn. It puts a strain on their marriage, especially as Robyn suspects that Simon is not telling her something…

The Gift is a slow-burning psychological thriller. Not a lot happens for much of the film. Yet, it is a tense watch. This is primarily because Director Joel Edgerton (thankfully) does not use loud, sudden noises to artificially inject jump-scares into his viewers. Rather, he uses the natural spookiness of the suburban area to good effect and creates a scenario that nobody would want to experience. The combination induces an organic and ethereal tautness into the audience, thereby making The Gift an uncomfortable watch.

Gordo (Joel Edgerton) staring with unsettling intent at Simon and Robyn at the store.

Gordo (Joel Edgerton) staring with unsettling intent at Simon and Robyn at the local supply store.

Central to The Gift being an uncomfortable watch is Edgerton as an actor. Edgerton is really good as the unsettlingly weird Gordo. With just a look (or a gift), he can make viewers feel like ants are crawling under their skin. Edgerton’s/Gordo’s weird behaviour is one of the reasons for this; the other is due to the phenomenal (and subtle) job that the cosmeticians have done to his face. They have transformed Edgerton from a pleasant, amiable-looking guy into someone that no-one would ever want to come across, whether in a supermarket, a social gathering, on the train, or in a dark alley at night. (Especially not in a dark alley at night!)

Edgerton/Gordo is undoubtedly the star of the film. He activates the tension and his behaviour gets unnervingly weirder and weirder the more The Gift goes on. Yet, one cannot ignore the roles played by Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman either to making the movie tense. Hall plays plausibly well as a woman who seems fine on the surface, but has psychological issues brooding under the surface; while Bateman plays decently as his seemingly usual, (semi-)comic, supercilious self. Nevertheless, neither Hall nor Bateman have the same weight on screen as Edgerton. One spends much of the time when Edgerton is not on screen waiting for him to reappear as one knows that something strange and unsettling is likely to occur.

Edgerton gets a lot right as an actor in The Gift. He also gets a lot right as the director and writer of the film too. He captures the cinematography of a suburban town well (with all its beauty and mundane scariness), and uses relatively long shoots to enable viewers to feel the normality (and tension) of the situation unfolding for Hall’s and Bateman’s characters with impressive skill.

Simon and Rebecca find a gift awaiting them at the house upon returning from some friends. Guess who its from...?

Simon and Rebecca find a gift awaiting them at the house upon returning from some friends. Guess who its from…?

Additionally, Edgerton has written a very good script that has believable dialogue and a solid storyline. It is only in the climactic scene at the very end of the film that one or two elements of the dialogue and script don’t work. Indeed, they seem entirely at odds with the realism of the rest of the movie. But to put too much stress on the (eye-raising nature of the) end would be to do The Gift and Joel Edgerton a disservice. As an actor and as a director, Edgerton emphasises that he has talent akin to Sofia Coppola, George Clooney and Ben Affleck.

Over-all, The Gift is a well-executed psychological thriller. The final scenes may be questionable. But the film is tense and suspenseful in an entirely naturalistic and refreshing way. Undeniably, Edgerton is the shining light of this film as an actor, the writer and the director. He is creepy as the main supporting actor; intelligent in his script-writing; and neat in his directing. Edgerton is highly unlikely to be nominated, let alone win, an Oscar for his directing The Gift. But this is a great directorial debut from him, and one looks forward to watching what he writes and directs next.

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Review – Gone Girl (18) [2014]

Gone Girl - title banner2

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • David Fincher – Fight Club, The West Wing, The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Cast:

  • Ben Affleck – Pearl Harbour, Paycheck, Argo, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
  • Rosamund Pike – Die Another Day, An Education, Wrath of the Titans, Return To Sender
  • Neil Patrick Harris – Starship Troopers, Beastly, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, The Good Dinosaur
  • Carrie Coon – The Leftovers
  • Tyler Perry – Why Did I Get Married?, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Good Deeds, The Single Mom’s Club
  • Emily Ratajkowski – Entourage, We Are You Friends
  • Kim Dickens – Red, Lost, The Blind Side, Sons of Anarchy
  • Sela Ward – Independence Day II: Resurgence

Music Composers:

  • Trent Resner – The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Brainport: Soul of a City
  • Atticus Ross – The Book of Eli, The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Blackhat

When people get married, they make a vow to one another to stay together for life. At the time of making their vows, couples believe that their bonds are strong and that any hurdles they face in their marriage will be overcome. Nevertheless, there are some hurdles that cannot always be overcome, whether it is due to the behaviour of one or both of the spouses, or due to factors beyond a couple’s control. David Fincher’s excellent new film, Gone Girl, dramatically explores what couples maybe can and cannot endure in a marriage when certain fundamental aspects of any relationship/marriage are tested to the limit.

Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) happily married, looking for books in a library.

Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) happily married, looking for books in a library.

Gone Girl is a psychological thriller, adapted from the 2012 novel with the same title by Gillian Flynn. Nick and Amy Dunne are a young, happily married couple. But on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick (Ben Affleck) comes home to find that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has vanished. Nick reports his wife as missing to the police. But as the investigation gets under way, the shadier sides of Nick’s personality are uncovered, leaving the police to question whether he is guilty of something sinister.

Gone Girl is a fascinating film that looks into Amy’s disappearance in detail. Like with Fincher’s critically acclaimed The Social Network, Gone Girl gives each side a fair amount of time to tell their version of events throughout its 150-minute running time. Cleverly, in between flash backs, the movie dangles carrots of information before viewers, so they jump to conclusions, only to be given new pieces of information that force them to rethink all that they previously knew (or thought they knew) about Nick and Amy. Impressively, this continues in a mature way right up to and including the final scene.

Nick going to the tavern to speak with his twin-sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), about how his relationship with Amy is almost non-existent.

Nick going to the tavern to speak with his twin-sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), about how his relationship with Amy is almost non-existent.

Suffice to say, Gone Girl is an intense movie in which one cannot go to the bathroom for a break at any point. Scenes move quickly; too quickly, perhaps. Yet, each scene is crucial, not just in terms of plot, but in terms of the important issues the film raises because they affect normal people in relationships/marriage. Issues such as trust in a partner/spouse, the extent that one can believe any side of a story, the façade of a happy marriage, the gradual change of personality in one’s partner/spouse, the strain of economic hardships on a relationship/marriage, the strain on a relationship/marriage of having to move city or country for one reason or another, the prejudices of the police during investigations, and the role other people and the media can play over local (and international) opinions. That the film handles these issues in a neutral, adult way is a credit to the film that will leave audiences enthralled and unsure as to who is the hero and who is the villain.

Two reasons why audiences will be enthralled is due to the quality of the dialogue and the acting. Fincher’s trademark fast-talking dialogue is pulled off with aplomb by the talented cast, all of whom play superbly well. Significantly, the two main actors, Ben Affleck and Rosamind Pike, are outstanding and have great chemistry together. Yet, of the two, it is Pike who steals the show with a career-changing performance. The film may rush Amy’s character development, but Pike handles this well enough to guarantee that anything that is missing from Amy’s nature is of inconsequence.

Nick appealing to the public to help him find Amy, with posters of her missing to raise awareness about the situation.

Nick appealing to the public to help him find Amy, with posters of her missing to raise awareness about the situation.

Pike and Affleck’s superb performances aside, what also keeps Gone Girl so vivid is the suburban setting of the movie and the movie’s music score. The ordinariness of the location and the raw feel of the music add to the unnerving quality of the film because they compound the sense that (at least some of) what happens to Nick and Amy could happen to absolutely anyone.

Over-all, Gone Girl is a terrific and thought-provoking film that has been cleverly executed by a world-class director. The film sensibly deals with some profound issues that can derail and break even the strongest of marriages. Indeed, the level of profundity is intensified by the film’s location, the film’s music, and the film’s grounded and absorbing performances from the cast; in particular, from Rosamund Pike. All of the above will ensure that audiences will remain mesmerised long after Gone Girl has ended as viewers will not only be wondering who of the cast was (more?) to blame for the situation that unfolds in the film, but also whether or not one’s own relationship/marriage would survive if he/she were faced with similar circumstances.

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Review – Before I Go To Sleep (15) [2014]

Before I Go To Sleep - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • Rowan Joffe – Brighton Rock

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Ed Shearmur – Cruel Intentions, Derailed, Miss Congeniality, Masters of Horror

In my review of last year’s Trance, I wrote about how psychological thrillers mess with the mind and how they tend to be enjoyable and very intense, with semi-plausible plot twists that keep audiences guessing long after the conclusion of the film. Before I Go To Sleep is more of the same and a credit to the genre.

Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up, as she does every morning, not knowing who she is or her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), sleeping next to her.

Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up, as she does every morning, not knowing who she is or her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), sleeping next to her.

Before I Go To Sleep is based on the 2011 novel with the same title by SJ Watson. The film centres round Christine (Nicole Kidman), an amnesiac unable to remember a thing from one day to the next, to the despondency of her husband, Ben (Colin Firth). Dr Nash (Mark Strong) calls Christine every morning to make her watch a video recording of herself from the previous day. This way Christine can remind herself of what she did the previous day in an attempt to cure herself of her amnesia and, more importantly, so that she can figure out/remember the truth about the incident that gave her amnesia.

Before I Go To Sleep is an intense and entertaining film. It is not as complex as Trance, but Before I Go To Sleep still holds audience’s attention with great success throughout its relatively short, 92-minute running time. What makes the movie so absorbing is the way the film slowly (and deliberately) dangles carrots of information to viewers, so that they naturally form conclusions in their heads as to how Christine became an amnesiac. This adds to the thrill of the story and guarantees that when the twist comes, it is a genuine surprise in a good way.

Christine having a meeting with Dr Nash (Mark Strong), without Ben's knowledge or consent.

Christine having a meeting with Dr Nash (Mark Strong), without Ben’s knowledge or consent.

However, whether the twist makes plausible sense upon looking back on the film is highly questionable. One of the problems with the twist is that viewers are not given a crucial piece of information midway through the film. While it is common in psychological thrillers not to reveal vital pieces of information about events prior to the starting point of the film (timeline-wise) until the final revelation, it is another thing entirely for information to be (cynically and sinfully) withheld from viewers from the start of the movie’s timeline. This feels like the director has cheated on his audience and not in a good way.

Putting the plot twist aside, the dialogue throughout the film has been well written and the acting is decent, without being outstanding. Nicole Kidman plays believably as the anxious and emotionally distraught central character. She looks the part: gaunt, skinny, vulnerable and confused. More could time been devoted to her backstory, but that is not the real issue with Kidman’s performance. The real issue is that her performance carries the odour from her last film: the ill-fated The Grace of Monaco. With this mephitic whiff emanating from Kidman, it is hard to watch her in Before I Go To Sleep without feeling that her career has fallen and that she is trying (hard) to get herself back on track again.

The same odour, however, does not affect from the performances of the two main members of the supporting cast. Both Colin Firth and Mark Strong do good jobs with the material that they are given. If anything, the material and screen-time that they are given lets them down. Neither Firth nor Strong are given enough time on screen and the movie does not explore their personalities and their motives deeply enough.

Christine watching and recording herself in secret to try and remind herself who she is and what did the previous day.

Christine watching and recording herself in secret to try and remind herself who she is and what did the previous day.

Apart from the acting, Ed Shearmur’s score is not outstanding but it is atmospheric and unsettling. This helps to mess with one’s mind and helps to make Before I Go To Sleep a good film and a worthwhile addition to its genre.

All-in-all, Before I Go To Sleep is a thoroughly enjoyable and intense psychological thriller. It has a much simpler plot than other films in its genre, but that is not to the movie’s detriment due to the force of the storyline, the dialogue and the acting. Before I Go To Sleep’s plot twist is suspect, yet it will certainly take viewers by surprise and, therefore, like Trance, will keep audiences thinking long after the film has finished.

PG’s Tips

Review – Trance (15) [2013]

Trance - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Rick Smith – Breaking and Entering

Psychological thrillers, by their nature, are puzzling and mess with one’s mind. Inception, Shutter Island and Black Swan all did this with varying levels of charm, appeal and success. Danny Boyle’s impressive and sexy Trance adds something new to this testing sub-genre.

Simon (James McAvoy), unconscious after being bashed on the head by a batton. As a result, he cannot remember what he did with the painting.

Simon (James McAvoy), unconscious after being bashed on the head by a batton. As a result, he cannot remember what he did with the painting.

  Trance centres round Simon (James McAvoy), who works for a London-based company that auctions expensive paintings. The company has a security system in place to prevent the paintings from getting stolen, and Simon is part of the system.

However, when Franck (Vincent Cassel) leads a gang to steal a precious painting during an auction, the painting disappears. Simon, the last person to have handled the painting before its disappearance, was smacked on the head while he removed the painting. Since then, he has developed amnesia and so he can’t remember where he put the painting. In a desperate bid to find the painting, Franck decides that Simon must go to Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist. Elizabeth believes that by hypnotising Simon, she can get him to recollect the location of the painting.

Trance’s plot is clever and innovative. The film is fast-paced from the off, intense, violent and engaging. It is complex and confusing too, since it constantly does back and forth in time, unravelling what happened to the painting as well as explaining the various (and sinister) motivations of the characters. Moreover, and similar to Black Swan, one is never sure in Trance when one is watching reality or a dream (or a memory or a possible memory). All of this keeps viewers firmly on their toes because no-one can be sure as to where the film is going.

Simon undergoing hypnotherapy with Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in an attempt to regain his memory regarding the painting.

Simon undergoing hypnotherapy with Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in an attempt to regain his memory regarding the painting.

Although, it is dubious as to whether Trance’s storyline actually makes sense. Again, this is not novel to the sub-genre: it is uncertain whether the plots for The Machinist or Shutter Island added up (but no-one would argue that those were atrocities to cinema, like Sucker Punch or The Lady In the Water); while Fight Club and Inception demanded that one see them twice (at least) before being able to appreciate (or understand) those movies, and few had reason to complain about those excellent films either. Perhaps, the latter is true for Trance. However, there are some quite significant plot issues that could undermine the film and its realism (if one believes in the effectiveness of hypnotism/hypnotherapy, of course), but these are not going to be discussed here as they would spoil the thrill for those who haven’t seen the movie.

The force of Trance’s storyline is matched by the three main (and more or less only) cast members; James McAvoy in particular. Far from his relaxed demeanour as Charles Xavier/Professor X in X-Men: First-Class, his performance as Simon resembles that of his (brilliant but crazed) stage performance as MacBeth. Nothing illustrates this similitude more than the intensity in Simon’s bombardier blue eyes, as the hypnotherapy, combined with his own problems take effect on him.

Similarly, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson play well, but not with the same power as McAvoy. As Franck, Cassel does a decent job as a shady, amoral character. Yet, it is hard to classify him as the villain here since there is no-one who is particularly good in Trance (some people are just much worse than others). But if one does view Franck as the main antagonist, then one may not feel entirely satisfied with Cassel’s performance because he does not possess the look or the flair to make himself a dangerous villain on screen, unlike the cunning Liam Neeson in Batman Begins/The Dark Knight Rises, or the terrifying Michal Zurawski in In Darkness, or the flamboyant Javier Bardem in Skyfall.

Franck (Vincent Cassel), furtherst right, keeping a worryingly close eye on Simon's treatement, with his group of thugs alongside him to illustrate the consequences for Simon if he fails to shake off his amnesia.

Franck (Vincent Cassel), furtherst right, keeping a worryingly close eye on Simon’s treatment, with his group of thugs at his side to illustrate the consequences for Simon if he fails to shake off his amnesia.

While as Elizabeth the hypnotherapist, the stunning Dawson wonderfully holds her patients (as well as the audience) under her spell, as if ravishingly embodying the psychological thrill of the movie and the sub-genre in one attempt.

Over-all, Trance is a mind-bending and gripping film that is a worthy addition to the sub-genre of psychological thrillers. The movie has its flaws, but to a limited extent these should be disregarded because Boyle’s film is original, appealing and stylish. Furthermore, like all noteworthy psychological thrillers, Trance takes one out of one’s comfort zone and, to its credit, keeps one in thought long after the film has ended.

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