By BRUCE DENNILL
Solace / Directed by Afonso Poyart / 16V
Ratter / Directed by Branden Kramer / 13LSV
Return To Sender / Directed by Douad Mikati / 16SV
The Loft / Directed by Erik Van Looy /16DLVS
The Gift / Directed by Joel Edgerton / 13L
“Psychological thriller” is a genre term that, simplistically applied, suggests that, as well as some shooting and procedural sleuthing or similar, there’ll be either some twitchy, vaguely supernatural edge to proceedings, or one of the characters will have some unconventional skill-set, or that all of the characters will be largely normal but will tie each other up in knots on order to avoid censure they probably deserve.
Solace blends all of these elements well, combining two marquee names in Anthony Hopkins and Colin Farrell as John Clancy and Charles Ambrose respectively. Both men are high on the priority list of Joe Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) a cop trying to catch a fiendishly clever serial killer. Clancy is an old contact who’s useful because he has psychic abilities that can augment or guide more traditional investigative methods. Obviously, such abilities come with a great deal of emotional baggage, and Clancy’s conundrum – help and hurt or stay out of it and watch someone else get hurt – only deepens when he and Merriweather discover that their target may have psychic abilities himself. It sounds like a shaky set-up, but director Afonso Poyart gives the piece a solid, serious tone that grounds the mystical elements, and his cast give gritty performances that suit the major plot thread and the ruthless killer at its centre. Having the investigating agent played by the relatively lesser-known Morgan, and having his character being a rough-hewn, less than straight-laced sort, also helps to blur the lines between what happens here and the expected formula, making for satisfying viewing.
Ratter contains no supernatural elements, with its psychological angle based in the near-permanent connection many contemporary consumers have with the digital world, be it through their phones, computers, TVs or security systems. Ashley Benson (a pretty young actress for whom the piece was presumably created as a vehicle) plays Emma, who has just moved to New York and is beginning to make her way there, beginning a relationship and making new friends. She is constantly watched, though, with the camera techniques used making it clear that whoever is doing the watching (other than the audience) has hacked into her systems because of some unspecified obsession with her. As a warning of the potential of such drama to take place in real life – technologically, it’s not a stretch – Ratter is useful, but the shaky, found footage-style filming and the paucity of plot (someone is watching Emma; wait and see what happens) soon becomes annoying, and the ending seems as much about there being no ideas to add as anything else. The film is pitched as cutting edge, but its execution lets it down badly.
The darkness associated with the genre is better realised in Return To Sender. The elegant Rosamund Pike stars as a nurse, Miranda, who has aspirations of being a surgeon. She is talented in every area, but remains single, so her friends set her up with a blind date. She is raped; later, the rapist is arrested an imprisoned. The rest of the film deals with Miranda’s recovery from the incident. Pike’s (and Miranda’s) superficial qualities – refined looks and effortless sophistication – make the character unpredictable and interesting. The same terms could be used to describe the script, which follows an unconventional arc and ends n an unexpected and yet somehow reasonable place. It’s not easy to watch and it’ll have you questioning the way you react to what transpires, but for that reason it can perhaps be described as successful in terms of what the filmmakers set out to achieve.
In The Loft, it’s difficult to ever really get on board with the characters because they’re entitled frat-boy types who are the embodiment of casual evil that doesn’t care who gets trampled as long as they get their rocks off. The eponymous location is a penthouse they collectively use for trysts with hookers and girlfriends, rather than having to risk discovery via their credit card accounts if they stick to old-fashioned hotel rooms. When a woman is found dead in the loft, these lovely individuals – entirely unsurprisingly – turn on each other, and the remainder of the film is spent untangling the complex deceits they each contribute. On that score – as a whodunit – the film has reasonable impact, but because you hope to some degree that each of the nasty men involved get their comeuppance, working towards a solution in which only one is guilty doesn’t feel particularly fulfilling.
The Gift is actor Joel Edgerton’s full-length feature debut as a director, and he also wrote the script. It concerns a successful young couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), whose life seems to be going well until the reappearance of an old schoolmate of Simon’s named Gordo (Edgerton), who, though a little needy, seems to be an intriguing addition to their social circle. Mysterious mishaps become ever more regular in Simon and Robyn’s household, and Gordo falls under suspicion, with the couple’s growing sense of paranoia well developed by Edgerton in his behind-the-camera roles. There’s an additional angle, though, that takes the film beyond run-of-the-mill lurking-psycho territory, as some of the interactions begin to point to events in the past that have been hidden or ignored and which paint those involved as rather less savoury characters than they would have those around them believe. There’s consistent tension, and the line between good and bad is constantly crossed by more than one protagonist, making for worthwhile viewing all the way to the end.