Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
The fear of being trapped in a confined space or an isolated location has always been a continual source of terror for me when it comes to feature films; be it the Arctic desolation of Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter, or the breath-holding terror of underwater catastrophe like in George P. Cosmatos’ Leviathan. The latter scenario forms the basis of PRESSURE, an Isle of Man funded film that was shot in both Pinewood Studios and on location in Aberdeen by director Ron Scalpello.
Scalpello began his career as a music journalist in the nineties, before eventually coming into the film industry during the following decade, although he didn’t make his directorial debut until 2012 with the better-than-average Offender. From that picture he brings Joe Cole, who fits into Pressure very nicely alongside the excellent Danny Huston, as well as Matthew Goode and Alan McKenna.
The setting is the DSV Lorimer, stationed in the Somali Basin, where the role of the divers on board is to maintain underwater oil and gas pipelines that criss-cross the ocean floor. With essential maintenance needed six hundred and fifty feet below the surface, a team of four embark on a relatively routine assignment. As they reach the seabed however, disaster strikes, and with rescue uncertain, along with a dwindling supply of oxygen, they face a perilous fight for survival.
What struck me early on about Pressure was the total lack of padding. After the cursory introductions, it’s a mere thirteen minutes before we’re consumed by the perilous situation these men find themselves in. From there on in, it’s an endurance test – and I mean that as a compliment – as for over an hour, Scalpello turns the screw that enables his film to be a shoulder-stiffening ride of tension. While credit must undoubtedly go to the way it’s shot, with an impeccably crafted diving bell and impressive underwater exteriors, it’s the brilliance of the cast that make it. Cole notches up another role to show he’s a class act, but it’s Huston that steals the movie; the veteran actor, whose best work of late has been the Tolstoy adaptations that he’s done with Bernard Rose, gives a nuanced, gripping performance that elicits a generous chin-stroking nod of approval.
TIGER HOUSE fits into DTV Junkyard like a glove; contrived, predictable and face-palmingly ridiculous, but retains that midnight movie likeability, which despite its flaws, ensures that it retains a pleasing b-movie fizz. When Kelly (Kaya Scodelario) sneaks into her boyfriend Mark’s (Daniel Boyd)house one evening, she soon discovers she isn’t the only unwelcome visitor. A violent gang, led by their boss Shane (Dougray Scott), have invaded the property and are holding the family hostage for an unknown ransom. Terrified and suffering injury, Kaya is their last chance to survive, but she faces a considerable foe in the shape of disturbed ruthless henchmen Callum (Ed Skrein).
Following a nicely poised fifteen minute build-up which introduces us to Kelly and Mark, albeit with the inclusion of a couple of maddeningly irrelevant moments of exposition – her pregnancy, and a bizarre crossbow incident that they were involved in – the raid on the house gets underway. We’re in one location territory here, with Mark’s folks’ abode proving the backdrop for the entire movie, but director Tom Daley never lets the confinement of the property become dull or boring, with the feature perfectly suited to its satisfyingly lean running time. Like I said, realism is not the order of the day here, with Shane’s crew being the most unobservant bunch of crooks you ever did see; however, for a breezy seventy-five minute dose of bunkum, I can think of worse things to blow seven quid on.
A car accident, a hospital bed, and the words “the doctor says you might suffer from memory loss”, defines the narrative for UNCONSCIOUS quite clearly within the first few minutes. When Wes Bentley hears these words coming from a woman who claims to be his wife (Kate Bosworth), he initially has no reason to doubt her, but as his condition improves and he finds the energy to wander around the house that he’s confined to, he begins to grow suspicious as to whether this woman is really who she says she is.
I forget how I saw Twin Falls Idaho, the debut film from Michael Polish. It was a gorgeous looking picture nonetheless, a quality that was matched a couple of years later with Northfork which featured acting heavyweights Nick Nolte and James Woods. Post-2003 though, we’ve seen very little from the American filmmaker in the UK, unless you count the Hilary Duff movie Stay Cool for which he used a pseudonym. Over a decade has passed since I caught any of his work, yet ironically his latest remains faithful to the way he started out making movies, with vibrant imagery still very much a core trait.
Aside from the occasional piece of new technology, Unconscious feels like it’s set during another time period, albeit one that’s impossible to pin a year on. Such ambiguity bolsters the bewilderment felt by Bentley’s character, along with the sparsity of the rooms in the house, devoid of comfort, with blinding shafts of light piercing the windows. Sadly, all this gorgeous artistry is almost rendered irrelevant as Polish’s film tries as hard as possible during its middle act to descend into the realm of the ridiculous. Thankfully, the final few scenes do their level best to repair some of the damage, and go some way to defining Unconscious as a flawed curio.