The decade is drawing to a close, so what better time to look back and appreciate another ten years of varied, provocative cinema? Unsung Heroes is a series of forthcoming articles aiming to shine a light on some of the films released in the past decade that perhaps didn’t get the exposure, or success, that they deserved.
No one is claiming that all the films included are masterpieces (although some of them are), or even that they were the best films released in their respective years; this is simply an exercise in acknowledgement for projects that may have been critically acclaimed but didn’t, for whatever reason (be it limited release or the curse of subtitles), reach a wide audience.
Without further ado, let’s get started by going back just a single year, to 2009, the year in which Avatar dominated box office records. Avatar is a good reference point because, aside from being the most financially lucrative film of all time, it also represents the top end of the budget scale, whereas the two films singled out here are distinctly at the opposite end.
2009 was a mixed year for horror. Whilst, at one end of the spectrum, there were comic films such as Zombieland making headway in the charts, and Sam Raimi’s long-awaited (although frankly overrated) return to the genre, at the other end there was the usual standard dross (Saw VI) and plenty of Hollywood remakes/reboots (Halloween 2, Friday the 13th). Somewhere amidst all that were a number of interesting projects, many of which could have been selected as unsung heroes, but haven’t been for a variety of reasons. Honourable mentions to films such as Thirst (which, despite its small budget, came bearing Park Chan-Wook’s name) and Trick r Treat, a playful horror homage that, whilst ludicrously heading straight to DVD, managed to find a devoted following online. There are countless others, but Christopher Smith’s Triangle is our point of focus for today.
A small budget, psychological horror film starring an excellent Melissa George as the troubled young mother of an autistic son, Christopher Smith made a huge leap forward from previous projects such as Severance and Creep to give us something delightfully twisty and far more intelligent than your standard horror fare. It grossed just over half a million at the UK box office, primarily due to a lack of media coverage and a distinctly limited release, but critical acclaim was never far away.
The film folds in on itself cleverly as the narrative progresses, producing a number of bravado horror images that deserve to be seen without being spoiled here. Meanwhile, the gun-toting antagonist carries a mysterious threat, and occasional bursts of well staged horror violence are integrated with adeptness, forgoing the current trend for sadistic levels of violence that ultimately carries no weight or meaning. Triangle loves to entangle its audience in a looping mystery in which answers are perpetually just out of reach, but the recurring imagery and Melissa George’s performance ensure that it never feels like it’s cheating you, and that the conclusion is suitably affecting.
We mentioned Zombieland above, and it’s a film with the same suffix (and sharing the same lead actor, Jesse Eisenberg) that also makes our list: Greg Mottola’s Adventureland. Whilst the biggest commercial comedy smash of the year was undoubtedly The Hangover, Mottola’s film is infinitely more refined.
Genuinely heart warming as well as being funny, the film garnered much less attention than Mottola’s previous effort, 2007’s Superbad, but is a superior film in every sense. In the lead role, Eisenberg (soon to be seen in David Fincher’s The Social Network) carries the coming-of-age story with aplomb, bouncing off his well-cast colleagues so effortlessly that it won’t be long before the film wins you over.
The film is mature enough to deal with ‘real issues’ whilst also managing to get laughs out of people being hit in the groin; it casts Ryan Reynolds against type as an ostensibly cool janitor who actually might be a bit of a loser, and Kristen ‘Twilight’ Stewart absolutely nails her conflicted love interest and proves that she certainly is a burgeoning talent. As if that wasn’t enough, the film makes wonderful use of an excellent and varied jukebox soundtrack which complements the story, and the fairground setting, to a tee. Adventureland is another film that suffered under a limited release, but one that will hopefully grow in popularity over time.
So there you have it. Two great films released little more than a year ago that are worthy of your attention if you haven’t seen them already. Stay tuned for more unsung heroes in the coming weeks.