Are you alright?
This film would make a pretty good double bill with Black Swan. Both films follow disaffected women who become untethered from reality. There are a number of similarities between the two and this film is a little more unconventional in its structure. If I were to say which one was the better out of the two I would say Black Swan but only because I find Triangle an infuriating film to watch for the best of reasons.
It would be hard to get into a discussion of Triangle without revealing some spoilers and since this is a film where the story is tightly woven around its structure and dependant on the viewer knowing very little; if you haven’t seen the film it would be best to stop reading now. The film is good but I find it so intriguing that it would be hard to look under its hood without revealing some of its mechanics.
Triangle stars Melissa George as Jess, a single mother looking after her only son who is autistic. She’s invited to go on a boat trip and sail out with a group of friends for the day. They find themselves in the middle of a storm, their ship capsizes and they clamber aboard a ship called the Aeolus only to find that one by one they’re being killed off by an unknown person or people.
It’s a simple premise but the way director Christopher Smith utilises it is interesting. Like any typical horror the questions the audience demands from the film stem from trying to find out who is perpetrating these murders and why. The killer (who appears with a burlap sack over their head) could be your (now) standard psycho in the vein of Leatherface or more recently the antagonists in The Strangers.
On the surface the film is deceptive, luring the viewer into established convention before ditching it through the port window and meandering through a narrative that you can’t confidently predict. It’s spooky and atmospheric but it often feels shapeless, lacking a visible goal and the meandering tone is something that affects the viewer in a way that the violence doesn’t quite achieve.
As a result it’s a difficult film to watch, trying the viewer’s patience as the film sets about resolving the narrative in one way but leaves the viewer completely at sea (ahem), never making these narrative developments coalesce into something concrete until its end.
Like Black Swan much is made of reflective surfaces. In Aronofsky’s psycho drama they’re used to depict Nina’s fractured personality/debased self, here they’re used to simply reflect Jess. They show her the person in the mirror is not some crazy, debauched part of her character but is simply herself.
That’s what the majority of the film explores and how the film builds up to this revelation is the best part of it. The premise on its own is not particularly intriguing and is rather par for the course in horror films (an isolated location, a number of characters to be whittled down, an evil presence lurking on the ship) but it benefits from looking at it in hindsight as any satisfaction gleaned from watching the film moment to moment may leave the viewer impatient for answers that aren’t forthcoming.
Going back to the recurring motif of mirrors, it’s what we see and yet at the same don’t see in ourselves that’s the true horrific part of our nature. There’s a point where the director breaks the 180 degree rule, mirroring the same exact scene but with something feeling very off.
It’s the feeling that there’s something wrong but we can’t quite figure out what, we don’t have that external perspective to be able to judge ourselves and our actions. Taking a step back reveals our insecurities and the disappointing behaviour we’re reluctant to acknowledge or unaware of committing.
When Jess finds out what’s wrong it’s a (literal) hammer blow, something she never recovers from and as the coda suggests is doomed to repeat. Is she living a waking nightmare, some horrendous Groundhog Day where she has to relive each moment, never learning from her mistakes and effecting a positive change? The film doesn’t provide an answer and its part of what I found so infuriating but something I admire in it at the same time; its refusal to provide any easy answers.
It’s in these frustrating moments that looking back on the film I see were necessary and part of the experience in watching Triangle. There’s hopelessness to it all that I found utterly crushing and I can’t help but sympathise with the main character but also find her unlikable too.
She’s a difficult character to create empathy for (especially when we’re given so little to feed on) but George finds a way to keep you vested in her for the most part. She looks confused and battered when we first meet her, a blank slate if you will, and that expression rarely changes. She looks empty and you can’t help but feel a little pity for this character.
Apart from the structure and ideas in the film, there are some arresting images to be found. With the film being deliberately circuitous in nature, the idea of repetition, of characters meeting similar fates over and over leads to some ‘whoa’ visual moments. When one character escapes from her would-be executioner only to find solace among dozens of dead replications, you’re affronted by the brutality of the situation.
Unfortunately, the film never proffers an answer in terms of Jess’ plight, ways in which this loop started or any case for how this destructive pattern could be averted. Like Jess you’ll be majorly depressed and left in doubt as to uncovering the truth but you’ll find an answer to the most pertinent of questions – who am I really and what am I capable of?
In Jess’ case it’s a great many things and she’ll be sentenced to this purgatory for what seems like an eternity. It’s a mysterious film that echoes an episode of The Twilight Zone and it’s a hard film to get into. I should know, it’s my third attempt in watching the film but if you persevere you’ll be rewarded in a rather unexpected way.