Alright! Fifty days and counting, and I should give myself a little pat on the back shouldn’t I? What better way to celebrate clocking fifty days and getting to the halfway point than going back to my roots with a good old fashioned British film? Okay, I reviewed a British film two days ago and this was made in 2001 so it’s not that old but you get what I mean, right? When I first heard about this film I couldn’t wait to get ahold of it and I was kept waiting for months before I finally got it on DVD for Christmas. I’m actually amazed that I read so much about it and I wasn’t even spoiled on any of the big plot points.
We have a dishevelled student called Liz Dunn (Thora Birch) who stumbles towards her boarding school and dials for the police, simply screaming into the phone for help. It turns out she and three other students have been missing for eighteen days while she is the only survivor. A police psychologist tries to get the story out of her and this is what Liz says: in school she’s a nobody and she’s desperately pining for the affections of Mike Steel (Desmond Harrington) an American exchange student who doesn’t even know she exists. Luckily for her, there was meant to be a Geography field trip to Wales at the end of term and Liz’s friend Martyn is helping Mike and two other students Geoff and Frankie ditch the trip, getting Liz to tag along with them. He reveals that there’s an old war bunker in the forest just outside the school and locks them in for three days until the trip gets back. Except...as you’ve probably guessed...on the third day he doesn’t come back at all. The police seize upon this story and haul Martyn in for questioning. The only problem is...his story is completely different to Liz’s and does make a lot more sense.
I’ve thought a lot about it and there really is no other way to talk about this film anymore without giving away some major plot information, so stop reading now if you don’t want to be spoiled.
Thora Birch who plays Liz is probably doing the most complex and interesting of all her roles. Liz is indeed a very mysterious and of course interesting character – there’s about five different versions of her that you see on film. As the film goes on, you slowly keep wondering whether you should trust her and believe what she says. She does seem to be some kind of sociopath or have something like that anyway. Her thing for Mike is a lot more than just a crush or even love – it’s an obsession. She must have him for herself or else she can’t go on. She’s desperate for him and Thora really gets that across, making Liz one of her best roles. Her English accent is alright but it’s not Dick Van Dyke bad or Alan Tudyk good. It falls into line and doesn’t stop me from enjoying her excellent performance. Dexter fans will enjoy Desmond Harrington in this and we also have the very underrated Laurence Fox playing Geoff. Props to this guy for being more likeable than Mike and also for being brave enough to do full frontal nude scenes. Girls watching this will get an eyeful so the prudes should look away. And as Frankie we have sweet little fifteen-year-old Keira Knightley in her first major role. And yes, this is the film where she flashes her boobs. All three of these actors also do really well with how we see two different versions of their characters – the ones in Liz’s story and the ones in the reality. It’s interesting to see the way Liz paints these people in her story with Frankie being a lot more of a ditz and Mike being nicer than he actually is. Embeth Davidtz makes another appearance on my list with her sexy English accent and she also falls into place quite nicely with the rest of the cast.
I really do like the big plot twists we all end up getting. We follow Liz from the start so of course we’re lead to trust her. We believe her story because of course she’s the main character so she can’t be wrong right? I’ll admit when I was first watching the film I didn’t believe Martyn at all, thinking he must be making the story up to save his own skin. I guess there might be a bit of sexism going on there what with Liz appearing to be the girl in trouble. Society does indeed love a poor girl who’s been through some trauma – Liz is certainly banking on that. One small touch I do notice that I’m not sure a lot of people get is the scene in Liz’s version of events where they discover microphones around the bunker and stage a big argument to convince Martyn to let them out. Frankie pretends to be sick, they say the toilet has gone off and everyone pretends to blame Liz. But then when we see what’s really happened after they get locked in, Frankie does indeed get sick and everyone does gang up on Liz so that’s a neat bit of storytelling (yes I just used the word “neat”). When the film’s over, I’m still not that sure if at the start Liz was simply making up the story to seem delusional or she actually was traumatised. It keeps you thinking.
The film was actually marketed as some kind of slasher film with just cause because it does have some truly chilling scenes; the opening scene with Liz stumbling towards the school and then screaming into the phone is pretty freaky to watch. There’s another scene where Liz finds Frankie unconscious in the toilets which is pretty graphic and not for the squeamish. The whole set up of Frankie’s “funeral” is pretty chilling, the way they cover her up with her inflatable pink chair and light her scented candles around her. I enjoy all the scenes that we see in Liz’s reality because it’s so different to what really happens and, knowing what happens, you want them to have the happy ending and you want Liz to be the good girl who ends up getting the guy after all. There’s also a lot less cursing in Liz’s version of the story.
So we’re at the halfway point of the challenge and I celebrated with a film that makes you think. Not much gore and more emphasis on tension and suspense, hinting strongly that it’ll be a slasher film but then it turns around and becomes a psychological thriller instead. All of the young actors showed some great promise and it’s interesting to see Keira Knightley in one of her first roles, while the others haven’t exactly kept themselves above the radar. I appreciate director Nick Hamm’s style and he hasn’t really done that many other films but he can always say that this was his, and it’s a pretty good thing to have in your resume. And if you’re not a psychological thriller type of person you can always give it a look to see Keira Knightley’s boobs (bear in mind she’s fifteen at the time) or Laurence Fox’s who-ha if that’s what you’re into. Until tomorrow and the second half of the challenge begins, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.