Monday, 31 August 2015

Frightfest London 2015: Landmine Goes Click review

Dir: Levan Bakhia
Landmine Goes Click is one of those films that I am torn on reviewing. On the one hand, I want to spread the word and hopefully get more of you than might otherwise do so to watch it. On the other hand, I can't talk about the things that most make me want to recommend it, because you absolutely mustn't know about them going in, or the film will be robbed of at least some of its desired and powerfully delivered effect.

The film opens with three friends – Chris (Sterling Knight), Alicia (Spencer Locke) and Daniel (Dean Geyer) – on a walking holiday in Georgia. Alicia and Daniel are getting married, and Chris is acting as best man, but Chris and Alicia are debating whether they should tell Daniel that, once, some time back, they slept together. The point turns out to be moot. When Chris steps on a landmine it seems to be an accident, but in fact it is Daniel's revenge. He leaves Alicia and Chris to try to save themselves. Eventually, potential help arrives in the form of Ilya (Kote Tolordava), but he increasingly treats his offers of assistance as a sick game.

That summary only takes us up to the second act, which plays out Ilya's games. Initially it seems that the drama is abbreviated, reaching a crescendo about 70 minutes in, but it's thereafter that Landmine Goes Click becomes a somewhat different film, going from being from a solid and engaging genre workout to become something more disturbing and more impactful. And I can't talk about it.

For much of its running time, Landmine Goes Click trades on stillness. Chris can't move, if he shifts his weight incorrectly he might detonate the landmine, killing or maiming himself and most likely Alicia in the process. This necessity is frightening on its own for a while, but Levan Bakhia knows that he can't trade on the same threat without variation for long, and he manages to explore more elements of the film's enforced stillness as it goes on. Once Ilya arrives there is the constant and growing threat that something he does – starting out by insulting him and Alicia before moving on to assaulting Alicia in escalating ways – will make Chris move. More remarkably, given that the film's first hour is set entirely in open spaces, this stillness allows Bakhia to find a claustrophobia that only increases the tension.

The series of events starts out extreme and only becomes more so as the first two acts run on, so it's surprising, and largely thanks to strong performances from the three central actors, that the main thing that strains credulity here is the extremity and imagination of Daniel's vengeance. Once you accept that, the rest of the film flows with a nightmarish logic from point A to B. 

The performances all have to evolve, but none more so than Sterling Knight's. Chris starts off as a pretty typical guy in his mid-twenties. He fucked up royally with his friend's girlfriend, but he wants to come clean, to do the most right thing left to him. Once he's trapped on that landmine, Knight's performance coils like a spring, but that energy can't be released or it will destroy him and, perhaps more importantly, the person he loves. The annoyance he feels with Ilya may even start out a little rude (if understandable in the  stress of the moment), but the invective he spits at the man who is supposed to 'help' them not only becomes more appropriate, the impotence of it becomes ever more upsetting. This builds to an horrendous moment when you can't help but place yourself in Chris' shoes, watching, helpless to do anything, as the worst of Ilya's assaults on Alicia plays out.

Spencer Locke has the film's weakest part, and one of its most problematic. At times, Landmine Goes Click seems to want to visit the worst punishment on women for things that were either partly or entirely the fault of men. This doesn't entirely take away from the film's other qualities, but I did find it a queasy reality at times, whether it's an intended message or not. This said, Locke is excellent as Alicia, desperate to help her friend, to the point that she will degrade herself in painful ways for the chance of a chance to give Chris better odds. What she and Knight bring most powerfully to the film is a sense of their characters responding naturally to being stuck in a nightmarish moment, an effective contrast against Kote Tolordava's broader performance.

Tolordava is also very good, if a little too nakedly menacing a little too early in the day. However, you get a sense, later confirmed, that there is a reason for this. In a performance that goes to progressively nastier places, Tolordava makes Ilya's progression from cruel joker to something much more lastingly damaging one that is credible step by step.

It's difficult to talk about much of Landmine Goes Click beyond the basic setup and shape of the first two acts, which is a shame, because it is the third act that shifts it from a solidly effective, sometimes nasty, genre piece to something that punches much harder and will leave you sitting slack-jawed at the end of the film. Suffice to say that the film shifts locations and genres. It remains in a single space - this one naturally, rather than artificially, enclosed - but shifts both the power dynamics and the performances. Sterling Knight, suddenly more playful, is exceptional in this section, and the film's final shot rests disturbingly on him.

I'd like to tell you more, but trust me, you'll thank me for not doing so. Let's talk about it in the comments after you've seen the film.

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