Relentless, grim and reminiscent of screw-tightening thrillers from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock or the Coen brothers, director Nash Edgerton's The Square is an elegantly nasty bit of business. In the vein of modern "daylight" noirs like Separate Lies, Lantana or The Deep End, Edgerton's film takes relatively normal people, allows for a few bad choices and sits back as the stakes rise ever higher.
The Square earned quite a bit of critical acclaim earlier this year during its brief Stateside theatrical run (it was first released in Australia two years ago). Although it can't quite pack the wallop it wants to, Edgerton, working from a screenplay he co-wrote with Matthew Dabner and based upon an original story by his brother Joel (who has a bit role in the film), nevertheless manages a few knuckle-whitening moments of tension that suggest tremendous promise.
Half the fun of The Square is the unexpected directions in which the narrative bends, so I'll refrain from any heavy spoilers. The main thrust of the plot concerns Ray (David Roberts) and Carla (Claire van der Boom), neighbors carrying on an illicit affair underneath the noses of their respective spouses. Ray is a construction site overseer by day; Carla works at a local hair salon. Carla is desperate to run away with Ray and leave behind suburban drudgery. Ray, while infatuated with Carla, doesn't quite leap at the chance to run away -- until Carla reveals that she knows where she can get her hands on a lot of cash.
To say anymore would ruin the various hairpin turns Edgerton inflicts upon these hapless characters. As with all compelling thrillers, there's plenty of coincidence and luck (or bad karma) at play here; Ray and Carla quickly get in over their heads and can only watch as circumstances spiral from bad to worse to spectacularly dire. The cast, comprised of unknowns (to American audiences), acquits itself well, although Roberts has a nagging tendency to overplay his big emotional moments. The novel setting (again, for American eyes) of Australia during the Christmas and New Year's holidays -- where it's pleasant and sunny -- stands in knowing contrast to all the dark goings-on.
But for as tight and merciless as the screenplay is, The Square shortchanges its characters. The audience learns fairly little about the consenting adults who embarked upon this life-changing affair, which robs the film of some considerable emotional potency. While viewers may be invested in the ultimate outcome, the startling finale would be far more crushing if the characters were more fully fleshed out. It's what keeps The Square from being a truly great film.
As it is now, Edgerton has merely made the sort of calling card to which audiences have become accustomed over the last decade -- a filmmaker from outside America showing up the Yanks at their own game. It evokes its predecessors while adding a rental-worthy title to the canon. It's a smart, intelligent thriller for adults that doesn't falter -- too much -- and delivers upon its promises. The Square is one heckuva thrill ride, but only the truly die-hard will want to hop onboard more than once.
The Square arrives on DVD with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Although likely intentional, the film is crisp and clean, albeit extremely dark throughout; even daytime sequences have a gloom to them that plays into the noir aspect of Edgerton's film. It may frustrate those expecting lush, vibrant images from this recently completed film, but The Square's transfer is in line with the director's intentions and the subject matter.
The English, Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack does a great job immersing viewers in the ever-escalating chaos of Ray and Carla's world, with subtle aural touches like the Christmas music that floats through the background of certain scenes. Dialogue, despite the occasionally heavy Australian accents, is conveyed clearly, with no distortion or drop-out. Optional English subtitles are included; for those who can't decipher the Aussie accents, they may come in handy.
Fourteen deleted scenes, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, are included, playable separately or all together for an aggregate of 25 minutes, seven seconds. (For whatever reason, nearly all of the supplements are -- frustratingly -- presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. C'mon Sony -- it's 2010.) The meatiest behind-the-scenes featurette, "Inside the Square," is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and runs 29 minutes, 36 seconds. It features interviews with nearly every key creative person on the film, charting their progress from start to finish. A trio of pre-visualization sequences for some of the film's major set-pieces are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen; they're playable separately or all together for an aggregate of five minutes, 10 seconds.
Another three scenes are "deconstructed" from a visual effects standpoint; presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, they're playable separately or all together for an aggregate of five minutes, 16 seconds. The music video for Jessica Chapnik's "Sand" (which, inexplicably, is presented in anamorphic widescreen) runs three minutes, 59 seconds and features several clips from The Square. Nash Edgerton's bizarre, shocking short film Spider (presented in anamorphic widescreen with a run time of nine minutes, 35 seconds) and a trailer gallery rounds out the disc.
Relentless, grim and reminiscent of screw-tightening thrillers from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock or the Coen brothers, director Nash Edgerton's The Square is an elegantly nasty bit of business. In the vein of modern "daylight" noirs like Separate Lies, Lantana or The Deep End, Edgerton's film takes relatively normal people, allows for a few bad choices and sits back as the stakes rise ever higher. It's a smart, intelligent thriller for adults that doesn't falter -- too much -- and delivers upon its promises. The Square is one heckuva thrill ride, but only the truly die-hard will want to hop onboard more than once. Recommended.