Friday, October 25, 2019

Hubrisween 2019 :: T is for Triangle (2009)

On a bright sunny day in southern Florida, a single mom named Jess finishes bringing in a load of laundry, and then cleans up after her severely autistic son, Tommy, spilled paint all over the floor, ruining her sundress in the process. They’re due to go sailing that afternoon with a man Jess (George) met at her waitressing job, who grew smitten with her and kept coming back to see her and now, here we are with an invitation to spend the day on his boat. But Tommy (McIvor) is having a particularly bad day on the spectrum, and as Jess tries to deal with his violent outburst the doorbell rings. But when she goes to answer it, no one is there.

Cut to the marina, where Greg (Dorman) is finishing up preparations on his boat with his first and only mate, Victor (Hemsworth). Turns out Jess isn’t the only guest on this voyage, as Greg’s married friends, Sally and Downey (Carpani, Nixon), arrive first. Sally has also brought along her friend, Heather (Lung), hoping to play matchmaker between her and Greg.

Seems Sally isn’t a real fan of Jess, thinking her friend could do much better than some burned-out hash-slinger from a greasy-spoon, who is obviously after his money. Both Greg and Heather are well aware of this less than subtle subterfuge. But Greg sees something special in Jess, especially the way she patiently deals with Tommy, while Heather makes it perfectly clear Greg is not her type but wouldn’t regret *ahem* “weighing anchor” with Victor.

Speaking of Victor, he runs into Jess on the docks, alone, who appears to be in some kind of daze and isn’t sure where Tommy is at first before assuring the others she left him at school -- despite it being a Saturday. And while Victor finds this weird and the girl even weirder, Greg says it’s a 'special needs' school that’s probably open all week. 

With that, they set sail and Greg slowly coaxes Jess out of her funk, not helped by a strange nightmare she’d had while catnapping, where she’s washed up on a deserted shore somewhere. Greg even lets her take the wheel as the last of the sails are raised and this excursion begins in earnest.

But it isn’t long before they lose the wind completely and are stuck in a deadly calm. And while the film never directly acknowledges this (-- except for the title), Greg has sailed them right into the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, where, according to folklore, a lot of strange shit goes down. Not to worry, says Greg, they can always use the engines to get back to port. But before he can even start them, Downey points out some darkening storm clouds on the horizon, that seem to be heading right for them, and asks the skipper if this is normal?

It is definitely not normal as Greg radios the Coast Guard to see if they have the storm on radar, but his communication with them is garbled by a distress signal from a hysterical woman, begging for help, as someone is trying to kill her, which is quickly lost in the static. Then, the squall hits fast and furious. And on top of the rain and wind, the waves start surging and, despite Greg and Victor’s valiant efforts to secure the boat, the ship capsizes, throwing everyone into the sea. And as if it’s job was done, the storm quickly dissipates and the sea becomes deadly calm once again.

A quick headcount shows everyone made it except for Heather, who, when last seen, was trapped below deck, but Sally isn’t ready to give up on her yet. Salvation seemingly comes when an ocean liner comes into view and passes close enough for them to use the deployed gangplank to get aboard. But despite seeing someone on the deck, the cruise ship appears to be otherwise deserted as all calls for help go unheeded. And while attempting to get to the bridge, they find the dining room, whose buffet is fully stocked with food. And as they explore further, Jess starts experiencing a growing sense of dread and déjà vu.

They also find a display case and learn the ship’s name, the Aeolus, and then things get even stranger when they hear someone nearby, investigate, but only find Jess’s discarded car keys, confirming they’re hers by matching a picture of her son on the chain to the same picture in her heart-shaped locket. Thinking this means Heather must’ve also gotten on board, the group splits up: Sally and Downey to look for Heather, Victor to try and track down whoever is spying on them, while Greg and Jess keep trying to reach the bridge and, presumably, find the captain of this vessel.

Despite Greg’s assurances, these menacingly familiar surroundings are really starting to freak Jess out and only reinforces her desire to get back home to Tommy. Beyond that, nothing else matters to her. Then, they’re drawn into a cabin by the sound of running water and find a message scrawled on the bathroom mirror in blood that says, “Go to the theater.” And while Greg thinks this is just another part of the sick prank the bored crew is playing on them, Jess splits off to warn the others. 

She returns to the dining room, only now all the food is rotten and decayed. Then, Victor stumbles in, covered in blood, and tries to strangle her. But Jess manages to fight him off by exploiting a puncture wound in the back of the man’s skull, inadvertently killing him.

Before she can process this, the sound of gunfire draws Jess to the theater, where Sally and Downey are tending to a mortally wounded Greg, who claimed it was Jess who shot him. They also accuse her of sending them to the theater and right into this ambush, which makes no sense to Jess at all. The sniper then kills Downey, and hits Sally. And while Jess tries to drag her to safety, she sees the masked gunmen, dressed in denim coveralls, who finishes off Sally with another round to the chest.

A terrified and confused Jess flees the scene and makes it outside, where she secures herself a fire axe. But the shooter gets the drop on his last victim, and has her dead to rights, but then hesitates before pulling the trigger, allowing Jess to knock the gun away. They fight over the axe, but Jess gains the upper hand and soon has the killer nearly pushed over the side, who yells the same thing at her, over and over. 

And while the burlap mask muffles the words, it sure sounds like the killer is saying, “You have to kill them; it’s the only way to get home” before one last blow sends the killer over the edge. But when Jess looks over the side to confirm he’s gone, she sees something. Something that makes no sense, and yet explains everything...

It's been said that if you took a global map and drew a triangle with the same dimensions as the notorious Bermuda Triangle -- an area roughly demarcated by a line drawn from the southern tip of Florida, to the island of Bermuda, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then back to Florida, and placed it anywhere else that was blue, it would show just as many ships and planes have disappeared in this new designated triangle as the old, making it no more or less dangerous than anywhere else on Earth.

Yeah, since its heyday in the crypto-addled 1970s, many myths about the once dreaded equilateral have long since been debunked, with plenty of plausible and practical explanations for the large number of ships and aircraft that have entered this geometric anomaly only to never be heard from again; with the most plausible, to me, being water displacement from gasses escaping from the ocean floor which reduces buoyancy from normal expectancy to essentially non-existent as things that once floated rapidly sunk out of sight. As for the airplanes? Well, I’m with Charles Berlitz on that one and leaning toward an ancient Atlantean death-ray crystal still popping off.

And that was always my favorite part of reading up on this alleged phenomenon; the irrational explanations. And back in the day when this sea mystery earned its own home version board game from Milton Bradley, there also sprung many a book and documentary concerning the Triangle. Most of which I’ve read or seen -- The Devil’s Triangle (1974), Secrets of the Bermuda Triangle (1977), The Bermuda Triangle (1979), which are all true except for the bullshit.

Around the same time the Triangle also served as a setting or plot device for many a gonzo feature as well, including Satan’s Triangle (1975), Airport ‘77 (1977), The Bermuda Depths (1978), and René Cardona Jr.’s oddly effective El Triángulo Diabólico de las Bermudas (1977). After that, not much, as the Triangle was mostly fodder for some Sci-Fi originals until about ten years ago when writer / director Christopher Smith took us back into those sketchy waters with Triangle (2009).

A follow up to Creep (2004) and Severance (2006), both highly entertaining genre romps and both showing potential for even better things yet to come, Smith wanted his follow up feature to be a psychological thriller with supernatural overtones; a combination of Memento (2000), where an amnesiac is trapped in a seemingly never-ending cycle of grief and revenge, and Jacob’s Ladder (1990), where a Vietnam vet is trapped in a paranoid hellscape of his own mental making, maybe. There’s also a huge influx of influence coming from the labyrinthine themes of The Shining (1980), which also deals with isolation, mental breakdown, torment and murder.

Of course, the Bermuda Triangle setting adds the needed supernatural element to Smith’s plot stew but as things unfold and the twists become untangled this three-sided hot zone of strange disappearances, ghost ships, magnetic disturbances, and inexplicable time vortexes becomes a bit of a straw-man or a macguffin that Smith uses as a lure to throw the audience off. Thus, is it the mythical Triangle screwing with Jess or is something far more sinister at work here? And like with The Pact (2012), these twists-and-reveals-to-come are so righteous and well-earned I am hesitant to spoil them, so, fair warning: there be MASSIVE SPOILERS ahead and if you haven’t yet seen Triangle, I encourage you to just stop reading right now and go seek out this film. It’s that good.

For those of you still here, Smith tips his hand a bit that something else might be at play with the revelation of the ghost ship’s name, The Aeolus, which is the name of the ancient Greek god of the winds. And if you know your mythology, like our cast of characters do, you know Aeolus had a son, Sisyphus, who managed to cheat death not once, but twice; once by tricking Hades so badly death was nullified for a time so no mortal could die or stay dead; and second by tricking Hades’ mistress, Persephone, with a sob story that allowed him to return to the living to scold his wife over his shoddy funeral arrangements.

Of course, the Greek gods are a group of vindictive sonsofbitches and when they finally got Sisyphus where he belonged in Hell, Zeus’ punishment was to have him push the same boulder to the top of a hill only to have it fall back to the bottom, forcing him to do this task over and over for all eternity. And it’s this same kind of infernal loop that Jess has found herself trapped in when what she sees over the side of the ocean liner is not a body as expected but Greg’s capsized sailboat with her friends, all alive and well and ready to board again. Of course, another Jess is with them, too, so we’ll refer to her as the doppelganger to not cause any confusion because this tangled plot is about to tie itself into one giant Gordian knot of, Wait, what?!

Thus, the person everyone saw lurking on the deck of the Aeolus earlier was Jess all along. How can this be, you ask? Well, this is a mystery we will unravel along with Jess as she continues to spy on the others, is almost caught, and loses her keys for the others to find, just like they did earlier, which keeps this new loop in order and moving forward. And when this new group splits up, Victor finds her, thinking she's the doppelganger, but doesn’t believe her wild story. 

These efforts end in tragedy when her zealous efforts to convince Victor gets his head accidentally impaled on a wall-mounted hook. And as Victor stumbles off, bleeding, back toward the dining room and his destiny, Jess flees deeper into the bowels of the ship and comes upon the crew’s quarters, where she finds duplicates of the killer’s clothes, a rack of shotguns, and, wait for it, another locket just like hers. And not just that one locket, as she spies hundreds of them at the bottom of a shaft.

And as Jess struggles to keep it together, she next finds hundreds of pieces of crumpled paper that all say the same thing: “If they board, kill them all.” Here, Jess writes the note again to confirm it is her handwriting and thus, adds yet another piece of paper to this scrap pile.

And if it wasn’t obvious enough, yes, all of this means this exact same time loop has happened hundreds if not a thousand times already. (That explains the galloping deja vu.) Realizing this, too, Jess then decides to get proactive and will try to change the narrative by force.

Taking one of the shotguns, she heads to the dining room and has a brief stand-off with her newest doppelganger, who slips away. Next, she heads to the theater but it’s too late: Greg is already dead, felled by the killer. Meantime, an older doppelganger lures Downey and Sally into a cabin, where she viciously stabs them. Here, Downey is still killed but Sally manages to get away.

As she flees from the the doppleganger, Sally passes the radio room and tries to call for help -- the same distress call Greg heard on the radio when the storm first approached. This is cut short when she hears someone coming; and so, Sally keeps moving, her life slowly leaking away with each heartbeat.

And when she makes it to the deck, quite the sight is waiting for her: hundreds of Sally doppelgangers, all dead, some a lot longer than others, stacked two to three bodies high. Unable to process this scene, poor Sally collapses. Then, Jess catches up to her just as she expires.

Hearing a commotion below, Jess spies her new doppelganger killing the older doppelganger and toss the body off the boat, and then they both see the scuttled sailboat and a fresh batch of victims ready to once more board the Aeolus. And here, Jess realizes someone’s been trying to tell her something all along as the loop restarts once everyone is killed. And while she lost this last battle, Jess now has a new plan that will allow her to save everybody once and for all: and this plan is to clear the deck of this new batch of castaways as fast as possible to start the loop again, again, then abandon ship in time to prevent the others from ever boarding -- newest doppelganger be damned, and end this vicious cycle for good.

Of course, this means Jess is going to have to kill everybody. And in her efforts to accomplish this it’s slowly revealed a succession of Jesses were really the masked killer all along, too, as she sets the original massacre in motion, comforting Victor as he dies, leaving the message in blood on the mirror, telling the new Sally and Downey to go to the theater, donning the coveralls and mask, shooting Greg, but not before he recognizes her by her shoes, then Downey, then Sally, which paves the way for the final confrontation with her latest doppelganger on the deck.

Here, the plan unravels when Jess hesitates just like before, gets disarmed, and is quickly on her heels as her doppelganger fights back and pushes her toward the railing. Realizing she’s blown it, Jess yells at her doppelganger, saying, “You have to kill them; it’s the only way to get home,” before she’s forced over the side and plummets into the ocean below.

Was this enough to start the cycle over again? Magic 8-Ball says, Answer Unclear, as Jess awakens, having been washed ashore, echoing the dream she had earlier. From there, she rushes home only to find another doppelganger there, taking the laundry in. It’s the same day, the loop is starting over again, but this time we get the full picture as Jess watches her latest doppelganger lose her temper with Tommy, who spilled that paint when he saw his “second mommy” outside the window, and she starts berating and beating on him, begging for just one damned day of normalcy. Outside, Jess presses the doorbell, which distracts the doppelganger long enough for her to get inside, where she waits in ambush with a hammer.

Once the doppelganger is beaten to death and stuffed in the trunk of her car, Jess swears to Tommy, who saw everything, that this time things will be different and they’re going to get away. But as they get onto the coastal highway, a seagull crashes into her front windshield, forcing them off the road. 

Promising the distraught Tommy that she’s going to bury it, Jess takes the carcass and tosses it off a pier onto the beach, where it lands on top of a pile of dozens of similarly mutilated birds. She’s still stuck in the loop. And is no closer to escaping than the last few dozen doppelgangers who made it this far.

Still determined to get away, Jess returns to the car and floors it. In the back, Tommy is in the middle of a five-alarm freakout, distracting his mom from watching the road as she drifts into the wrong lane and runs smack into an oncoming truck. Her car is obliterated, and as others rush to the scene to help, we spy the doppelganger's body and Tommy, also dead, splayed all over the asphalt like some old Driver’s Ed atrocity footage.

But Jess appears to have escaped this accident unscathed. At least physically. And as she detachedly bares witness to this carnage, a taxi driver approaches Jess, asking if she needs a ride somewhere. She does. She needs to get to the marina. Once there, the cabbie says he’ll leave the meter running when she promises to be right back. On the docks, she runs into Victor but, concussed and out of sorts, and possibly suffering from shock, she has trouble remembering where Tommy is as she gets on the boat, starting the damnable loop once more. Again.

Triangle is one of those movies that leaves you with a lot more questions than answers, which is not necessarily a bad thing in some cinematic cases. Already employing urban legends and myths of yore, Smith also gets literary with nods to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, where a sailor is cursed after killing an albatross, and An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, which chronicles the escape of a Confederate spy, who almost makes it home, only to end with a deadly reality check.

And with so many influences the film can be interpreted in so many ways: Did Jess really die in the accident and is this desperate narrative simply her brain in its final death throes like Peyton Farquhar? Is she just caught in a Bermuda Triangle-fueled time-vortex? Or is she just having a nervous breakdown and this is all just in her head? If she did die, is this her version of hell? Did she cheat death like Sisyphus did? And is this her eternal punishment? Reliving this awful day over and over, made worse by her ability to alter things but still reach the exact same end? Every time?

And after this latest round ends in another failure, is she gearing up to try and change things again or has Jess finally accepted her fate and will simply go through the motions this time? Or has her brain reset, wiping her memory to start this task over with a clean slate except for whatever lingers in her subconscious? I think at the end, when the Cabbie comes and asks her for a ride, a modern day Charon ready to ferry her to the other side, who is tricked when she leaves him with the meter running, we’re supposed to question if that’s really Jess on the pavement, especially since she’s no longer stuffed in a suitcase, which is why the loop both ends and begins right there. Maybe.

Whatever the answer (-- and I’m not even sure if there is one, a right one, and if there is, I don’t wanna know), kudos to all involved for making this intricate, moebius strip of a plot not only hold together but thrive as it keeps doubling back on itself with every odd thing encountered explained away later. The first time through I had kinda sussed it out, what was happening, but that still didn’t have me prepared for the incredible scene where Sally discovers the mound of corpses of herself.

Damn, this film really gives you a case of the creeping drizzles. Kudos to Melissa George, who brings the right kind of lingering psychosis, damage and desperation to Jess as all these moving puzzle pieces fit into place and then get tossed back up in the air again. And for such a one-note premise (the time loop), the rewatchability of Triangle is surprisingly high as you try to look for earlier tells and signs or something you might have missed that will either confirm your conclusions or destroy them completely.

While in production, Smith stated one of his end-goals was to keep out-guessing the audience. And on that he succeeds to an extent. The plot can be sniffed out if you’re paying attention, but he still manages to pull the rug out from underneath you. I know this film died pretty horribly at the box-office despite positive critical response and that, sadly, is probably due to everything I love about this film: the uncertainty, which forced the audience to think too much about what they were watching and forcing them to draw their own conclusions instead of having it all wrapped up nice and neat.

Well, the ending here is neither nice nor neat with no solution in sight; and whose internal logic will have you struggling to extract any answers from, as Triangle loops around again each and every time you watch. Well, played, Mr. Smith. Well played.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween! 26 Days! 26 Films! 26 Reviews! And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage as The Fiasco Brothers and Yours Truly countdown from A to Z all October long! That's 20 reviews down with just six more to go! Up Next: See the Rat. Get the Rat. Splat the Rat. Easier Said than Done.

Triangle (2009) Icon Entertainment International :: Framestore :: UK Film Council :: Pacific Film and Television Commission :: Dan Films :: Pictures in Paradise :: Triangle Films :: First Look International / EP: Sara Giles, Mark Gooder, Stefanie Huie, Steve Norris, Jason Rosamond / P: Julie Baines, Chris Brown, Jason Newmark / AP: Jonathan Taylor, Sara Giles / LP: Tom Hoffie / D: Christopher Smith / W: Christopher Smith / C: Robert Humphreys / E: Stuart Gazzard / M: Christian Henson / S: Melissa George, Joshua McIvor, Jack Taylor, Michael Dorman, Henry Nixon, Rachael Carpani, Emma Lung, Liam Hemsworth, Bryan Probets

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