Of all the intrusions of modern technology upon the simple thriller, the invention of the cell phone has to be the single most vexing for screenwriters. The damn things have to be accounted for at all times, lest they offer an easy escape for the otherwise inexorably entwined protagonists. Properly taking them into account, then, suggests a careful attention to detail — a definite good sign for an audience. To that end, writer/director Nash Edgerton and his screenwriting cohort, his brother Joel, have dutifully accounted for the devices in this catchy blackmail thriller from Australia.
Raymond (David Roberts) is a construction foreman on the take, accepting kickbacks for jobs on a huge resort project. He is also having a torrid fling with hairdresser Carla (Claire van der Boom), herself living with a violent despot named Smithy (Anthony Hayes) who suddenly shows up at their house with a satchel filled with money. Quickly a plan is hatched by Carla and Ray to steal Smithy’s money and burn the house down in a fire “accident.” Unfortunately, the two schemers don’t take into account that someone else might be in the house when it goes up in flames.
The resultant twisty repercussions do indeed seem to owe a fair amount to the Coen brothers 1981 debut, Blood Simple, as has been widely observed, but the brothers Edgerton don’t share the Coens cheeky, dark sense of humor, or much of their story-telling inventiveness. If this film were prose, it would read more like Carver than Chandler. Instead of florid embellishments and stylistic nods, the Edgertons have made a classic type of thriller, the fine mesh netting of the plot drawing ever closer under the characters feet until the inevitable final pull of confrontation takes place. One of the chief pleasures of a film like this, of course, is how it allows us to experience the full ramifications of taking that wrong turn in our lives without actually implicating ourselves. No matter how bad off we might feel we are, taut, harrowing thrillers like this prove conclusively things could always be much, much worse.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.
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