UK 2004 : Marc EVANS : 94 mins
After achieving something of a commercial and critical breakthrough with his third feature, the agreeably creepy Canadian-filmed My Little Eye, Welsh director Evans comes a cropper with this messy followup, a lurid slice of modern London gothic-cum-psychological chiller/thriller. Hardcore devotees of Colin Firth may appreciate their idol’s copious screen-time – he’s in just about every scene – but even they may end up somewhat dissatisfied, as Firth essays a much less sympathetic character than the nicey-nicey sorts he usually portrays.
He’s Ben, who awakes from a coma following a car accident. His recollections are somewhat jumbled, but he’s certain of one thing: the crash killed his wife Elisa (Naomie Harris). Devastated by grief and guilt, he attempts to pick up the pieces of his life – a former art-student with a strong interest in entomology, he moves into a new flat in a cobweb-strewn converted mental-hospital where he keeps an ant-farm in implausibly his roomy atelier.
Ben’s recovery process isn’t helped by terrifying visions and hallucinations which seem to suggest Elisa may actually be still alive, or that her restless spirit – in the words of a psychic (Brenda Fricker) – hasn’t yet “gone over” to the “other side”. It’s all something to do with the recent murder of megastar pop singer Lauren Parris… or is it? Meanwhile an enigmatic young American woman named Charlotte (Mena Suvari) arrives in Ben’s life. But is she all she appears? Does she even exist at all?
The answers aren’t quite what the audience expects – the final twist is surprisingly original given the second-hand nature of pretty much everything that’s gone before. The main problem is with Richard Smith’s script, which fails to convince either in psychological terms, or on the nuts-and-bolts level of practicality (How does Ben fund his somewhat opulent lifestyle? Would the nation be quite so convulsed with grief after the Jill-Dando-ish death of a star like Parris?)
Seeming to sense the limitations of the material he’s chosen, Evans (along with cinematographer John Mathieson, production-designer Richard Smith and editor Mags Arnold) tries desperately to jazz everything up, deploying all manner of distorted visuals – extreme camera angles and close-ups, plus over-atmospheric lighting effects and jagged cuts – in a strenuous attempt to get us into Ben’s tormented state-of-mind. But overcooking a dog’s breakfast is never a recipe for success, and Trauma duly ends up both unpalatable and indigestible.
13th September, 2004
(seen 9th September : Odeon Newcastle-upon-Tyne : press show)
by Neil Young