After a dream like opening of broken images and voiceovers, Triangle quickly moves into familiar territory. In a sequence you’ve seen in one version or another a million times before, a group of 6 young, attractive 30-somethings meet up, ready to head off on an adventure. This time, its for a day’s sailing on a small yacht. As Triangle is billed as a horror film, it won’t surprise anyone to find out that things do not go well: the group are caught in a massive storm and the yacht capsizes. Clinging to the wreckage, they are overjoyed to see an ocean liner drift out of the storm clouds. Once aboard however, salvation is not to be found, as the ship appears deserted, except for a lone hooded psychopath who isn’t too pleased to meet them.

So far, so generic slasher flick. But Triangle has a lot more up its sleeve than that. And if you’ve had the misfortune to see one of the trailers, you can probably work out what that is. Suffice to say, the story expands wonderfully from the initial premise, setting in motion a large number of parallel events through the course of the film. The primary story cleverly interweaves and collides with these interconnected tales, all the while building on the core idea of the movie. It’s a complex setup, but with skilled filmmakers at the helm, proves surprisingly easy to follow. Even if you’re not always sure of everyone’s motivations, you should quickly grasp what’s happening, and involved in all the events unfolding on the ship is single mother and survivor of the yacht sinking: Jess, played by Melissa George.

George has to carry the film. As the central figure, she is in almost every scene and must provide not only the audience’s cipher of unfolding events, but also portray a huge range of emotions. The film will sink or swim on this role. Fortunately, she is more than up to the task. Never anything other than believable, Melissa’s performance is something to admire. Equally at home as mother, scream queen, doubting her sanity, or vigilante, she grounds the film in a critical level of reality, even as events take a more fantastical turn. The rest of the cast are not given a huge amount to do, short of exchange a few lines of witty banter and die, but they all oblige, and there’s not a duff performance amongst them.

The tension of investigating a deserted ship is an easy sell, but it is still handled well, with all the expected unseen noises keeping everyone on edge. Director Christopher Smith clearly knows how to build suspense, given the right set-up and characters. Once the blood starts flying, there’s no over-the-top sequences (the film is rated 15 in the UK), in fact it has an almost fantasy element to it. In one key confrontation each combatant takes blows to the head from the blunt end of a hefty fire axe or an iron bar respectively. The fact that each is able to stand, let alone dish out more punishment stretches credibility somewhat. I personally think the film would have been stronger had a more realistic tone been chosen for these sequences, harking back to 70’s horror violence. Don’t get me wrong, this is not portrayed as Tom and Jerry style slapstick, it just felt a little too hyper-real to me, given the aesthetics of the film.

One thing that is perfectly pitched, though, is the cinematography. Any time a character ventures out onto the deck, we are blinded by sun light, as the screen is over-saturated with colour. The sequences above deck are almost dreamlike due to this bleached look. Once back inside, colour and brightness are significantly subdued, with a primary pallet of browns and greys. The strong contrast between the burning bright sunshine and the dark, dingy interiors brings to mind the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre {1974, Dir. Tobe Hooper}, which may go some way to explaining my minor reservations about the violence versus what I expected. CGI is used to realise external shots of the ship and here the budget limitations show through somewhat, though it is never overly distracting, limited to showing real world objects on a grand scale. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief about the usual horror movie conventions (Why do they always split up? Why didn’t X just shoot Y, etc), then a little b-grade CGI really shouldn’t distract from the experience.

Triangle achieves that very difficult task of making a complex film simple to follow. Its narrative structure weaves all over the place, yet the strong central performance and simple gimmicks (such as clothing changes to identify timeframes) help the audience quickly place themselves whenever there’s a shift in the action. The denouement throws in an interesting twist, and importantly it’s one that doesn’t seem to invalidate anything that happened previously. Initially, I felt it was almost too slight, but upon further reflection, now believe it better explains some of the earlier events. A re-watch is probably required in order to decide if it fully supports or invalidates what came before it, but for now, I’m happy to give Triangle the benefit of the doubt. On release, Triangle was unfairly labelled as a generic slasher flick, but I encourage anyone with an interest in narrative “jiggery-pokery” cinema* to give it a look. Even if horror is not your thing, I think you’ll get a kick out of a well told tale, expertly handled – just try to avoid those trailers!

* It’s a genuine, respected term: ‘narrative “jiggery-pokery” cinema’. Honest. Scorsese uses it all the time. Maybe.

Jim