Triangle must have been a tough movie to market. A story this layered and packed with such surprising potential demands a wide audience and yet to spell out why this is the case would undermine its effectiveness. In order to get around this, the film has been marketed as a horror movie with images of a killer wearing a burlap sack mask splashed across the front and back of the DVD case. While there are horrifying elements to the film, I must say that Triangle is definitely not a horror movie. It is an intricately constructed perpetual motion machine that keeps ticking away powered by a compelling performance from Melissa George under the watchful eye of writer / director Christopher Smith.
The film opens with ominous but beautiful music as we peek in on Jess (Melissa George) and her autistic son Tommy (Joshua McIvor) in their home life. Jess goes about her household chores and cleans up after Tommy before heading out for the day. It promises to be a beautiful day but Jess seems tired and somewhat distracted as she approaches the docks. Greg (Michael Dorman), a frequent customer at the diner where Jess works as a waitress, has asked her to spend the day sailing with him on his boat, the Triangle. It's a hesitant attempt at something more than friendship and we sense that Jess has let down her guard because she sees something special in Greg. They are joined on their sailing trip by Greg's friends Sally (Rachael Carpani), Downey (Henry Nixon) and Victor (Liam Hemsworth). Rounding out the group is Sally's friend Heather (Emma Lung) who is clearly being set up by Sally as a target for Greg's affections. At first the sailing is smooth and peaceful, giving the group enough time to establish their dynamic. Jess and Greg gently flirt with each other and give us a glimpse of what could be the beginning of a real relationship.
As if on cue, things suddenly take a turn for the worse. The winds completely die down as the group stares at an approaching electrical storm with more than a little fear in their eyes. They attempt to radio the coast guard and pick up a distress call in the process. Before they can do much about it, the storm is upon the Triangle. Not everyone in the group escapes the destruction that follows but the survivors manage to gather on the capsized carcass of the boat. This is when things really get bad. The group imagines themselves saved as they get picked up by a ship called the Aeolus. Their joy quickly turns to confusion as they find the ship completely deserted. Even as they walk the narrow non-descript halls of the ship wondering about the identity of their savior, Jess can't escape an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. The collective disorientation of the group quickly turns to desperation as they are attacked by a mysterious figure wearing a burlap sack for a mask.
I hate to stop there with the synopsis but I can't reveal anymore without spoiling the surprises that follow. The plot may sound like the standard setup for a routine slasher but I assure you Triangle has something far more sneaky hidden up its sleeve. Like many other intelligent thrillers before it, the film plays with its timeline but sets itself apart by approaching its reveals in a most unusual way. It forges ahead in a linear fashion even though sections of it are quite cyclical in nature as smaller patterns emerge within larger overarching patterns. The linear narrative ratchets up the tension while the cyclical segments clarify character motivations through repetition. Our constant through all this is the character of Jess. As played by Melissa George, Jess goes through a range of emotions while maintaining a singular focus on getting back home to her son. In order to do so, she bravely goes up against the masked killer. While this demonstrates her courage, her actions after her first triumph over the killer reveal the extent of her intelligence. This leads us into a chapter of the film that thrills us with discovery even as it continues to be crushingly fatalistic. As Jess grapples with the situation she's in and reaches the limits of her desperation, the film keeps barreling towards the only conclusion that makes sense. It reaches past it own boundaries in order to tie everything up in an ugly little knot.
The biggest compliment I can pay Christopher Smith is that he's created an astonishingly brilliant Anti-Mindf*ck movie. He has enough faith in his script to avoid many of the typical thriller pitfalls. Where most directors would structure their film to have one shocking reveal regarding the identity of the killer, Smith does the deed in a throw away moment because it is perhaps the least surprising element of the film. We receive hints early on regarding the killer's identity and can easily identify the masked murderer before the film's halfway point. After we get this out of the way, we are able to immerse our minds in the twisty story that follows. This also frees up Smith to create an obstacle course for Jess that is filled with many smaller surprises. Rather than underwhelming us, this has the desired effect of slowly bringing the big picture into focus one element at a time. Of course the big picture wouldn't be worth much if it didn't encompass an engaging subject. Fortunately Melissa George is the perfect muse for Smith's bleak vision. She is in practically every frame of the film and carries the entire emotional heft of the tale on her able shoulders. Watching her question the essence of her humanity in the face of unbeatable odds makes her evolution over the course of the film that much more touching. I have one final note for those looking for another reason to applaud Smith's attention to detail. Be sure to look up the story of Aeolus and his son after you've watched the movie. I could repeat it here, but it's all Greek to me.