Weekly Watch: ‘Triangle’
Matt McMahon | Monday, February 1, 2016
If there is anything to be heeded from aqueous-set films it’s this: Never, under any circumstances, trust a boating trip on the ocean. It is our human nature to challenge the elements, get cocky about our dominion and throw caution to the wind. But there’s always some kind of angry external force out there — pick your poison for the particulars — ready to remind the overzealous of their insignificance and mortality.
Of course, the characters in Christopher Smith’s “Triangle,” an ambitious, disorienting psychological thriller that leaves viewers even more stunned after the credits than during its confounding M.C. Escherian plot, either haven’t watched enough movies, or otherwise, like their chances against the external forces they’re unknowingly pitting themselves against.
The film opens with Jess, the single mother of an autistic son, preparing for a day trip on her friend Greg’s sailboat. Jess is visibly exhausted, and the prospect of even a short getaway seems more than welcome. Joining her and Greg on the sterile expedition is a handful of Greg’s friends. While the film starts out slow in pace and almost repetitive in dialog, Smith does his damnedest to both establish and hammer home the relations of the characters and, most important, the axis of Jess’s existence: her son, Tommy.
Shortly into their trip, an eerie storm quickly materializes and capsizes the boat, and forces the group onto a just as eerie, just as quickly materialized ocean liner. Once on the liner, the shipwrecked survivors explore what appears to be an abandoned series of corridors and floors, save for one unseen, ominous presence.
What happens next can’t properly be arranged and described, as it does not, and cannot, logically make sense. The film’s twisting plot is constructed impossibly as to convey a harrowing sense of confusion and futility. Try as you might, there is no way to piece back together the scenes that follow into a neat timeline. As frustrating as this may sound on the surface, the experience Smith builds absolutely achieves the feelings he wishes to suggest.
Using mirrors and surface reflections wherever he can, Smith creates a much larger and completely disorienting landscape out of the relatively small and claustrophobic few areas of the ship the group explores. He saves certain angles and perspectives of rooms until the last act, to reveal new information up until the film’s final shot.
As a result, you can’t take anything for granted at first glance. What you think is familiar is challenged repeatedly until you are not only guessing what you think you know, but also what you are sure you know based on previous scenes.
Still, the film is completely insular — and not just in its confined physical space. As Jess moves from her home to the pier to the sailboat, Smith is very careful to reference extremely little of the outside world. This helps to contribute to the devastation of the Russian-doll-like series of reveals, the internal conditions feeling more and more inescapable and impossible without exterior reference points. As the film progressively unveils its truths, it falls further and further into a blackening, pinhole-sized abyss. Throughout the movie, there are hints of the gravity of the plot, but none is more shattering than the sight of one of the characters dying in a mass pile of her already dead bodies.
Playing Jess, Melissa George carries the bulk of the emotional weight and delivers alternating bursts of quiet sorrow and glazed-over determination. Unfortunately, most of the other characters are not given as much to work with and fall into one-note casualties defined by a single trait, and nothing more. Nevertheless, they are sometimes elevated through the isolated and compressed acceleration of anxiety caused by their surroundings, pacing through the stages of grief erratically. Even Jess falls prey to these script issues; as noted, we hear about her child enough to expect him to be her sole motivation, but the upending final sequence turns her early worrying into an incomprehensible mix of denial and amnesia.
The film’s looping timeline of events is not meant to be rationalized, but presented as a representation for the emotions experienced as a result of loss. Rather than limit the film to that, though, Smith also considers complications involving the consequences for that loss and the possibility of getting stuck amidst the stages of grief by taking from the Greek myth of Sisyphus — which he makes painfully clear in his transparent symbolism and referentiality. Despite these hiccups, “Triangle” is an engaging experience that grapples with insignificance and mortality in a uniquely sobering way.