31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: ‘Triangle’ (2009)

Any sort of discussion about Triangle will inevitably lead to spoilers. If you haven’t seen it and plan to, I’d urge you to do so before reading this. It’s not that you can’t enjoy the film knowing the details, it’s just a better experience if you don’t

The Medium
Hello Shudder, my old friend…

The Movie
I’m a sucker for time loop stories. From Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps” through Groundhog Day, Run Lola Run and Edge of Tomorrow. I’m sure there are terrible implementations, but all I can think of are the ones that I liked – even TV episodes, like the X-Files’ “Monday” and “All the Time in the World”, which was one of my favorite episodes of Dark Matter (curse you for cancelling it, SyFy!).

I just think there’s something fascinating about the idea of a do-over, a second (or third, or thousandth) chance to get it right.

Or, if you’re more morbidly inclined, a chance to relive the worst things over and over again.

Nooooo!!!!

 

Triangle starts with Jess, a single mother with a child on the autistic spectrum, getting ready for a day trip on the water. There are details of her morning – a knock at the door with no one there, a spill of watercolor that stains her dress – but none of it seems that important. When she finally arrives at the dock, however, she’s alone and dressed in shorts and a white t-shirt.

We’re introduced to the boat owner, Jess’ friend Greg, and the other passengers – married couple Sally and Downey, their friend Heather and a homeless teen now living on the boat with Greg, Victor. In a few hours (not three, I’m assuming) the boat is capsized in a freak storm and the survivors (Heather having been lost in the storm) are rescued by a passing ship, an ocean liner named Aeolus.

I’m sure that name has absolutely nothing to do with the story.

 

Director Christopher Smith (who also made Severance and Black Death) weaves details into various scenes that become important as things go on. There’s an aborted mayday heard over the radio, there’s a person seen on the bow of the ship before the rescue, there’s Jess’ keys found in a hallway she’s never been down. Once you know what’s happening – like when you watch it for the second time – you’re paying more attention to these details, but they’re not hidden or anything. Smith wants you to see what’s happening and wonder.

And what’s happening is very odd. There seem to be no people on the Aeolus (named after the father of Sisyphus, Downey helpfully informs us), but there are sounds in the halls and food in the dining room and the words “go to the theater” written in blood on a mirror.

Then, when Jess returns to the dining room alone, she’s attacked by a horribly wounded Victor. She flees to theater where she sees Greg, dead of a gunshot wound. Sally and Downey tell her that Greg said it was her that shot him. Then a masked figure kills them both with shotgun blasts and Jess flees, only to be confronted by the killer on the bow. In their struggle Jess disarms the person -who is wearing coveralls and a burlap bag over their head – and the killer says “you have to kill them – it’s the only way to get home,” before pitching over the side.

Wait. Wasn’t this exact outfit in Timecrimes?

 

Which is when Jess hears the voices. Moving to the rail she looks down to see herself and the rest, on the upturned boat, calling for help.

I did warn you about the spoilers at the beginning, right?

So it’s a time loop and Jess is the figure with the bag over her head and the murderous intent. Much of Jess’ motivation from the middle of the film on revolves around trying to change things. to circumvent the loop so she can return home to her son. How and why that evolves is part of the fun, so I won’t go into too much more detail, but there are some excellent moments of dovetailing events and one dead-end full of corpses that stuns the first time you see it.

Yeah, that’s pretty much the expression on my face too.

 

It’s easy to get lost in the details of Triangle, trying to figure out the ‘rules’ of the loop. Which Jess is where and when and how things reset. Who’s dead and how many times the whole series of events has occurred. I think that’s a distraction, however – albeit one that Jess herself falls into.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD I AM SO NOT KIDDING HERE.

 

Jess DOES escape the loop on the boat. She wakes up on the beach the morning of the same day and returns home. We get to see details that we missed in the initial opening of the film – primarily that Jess is an abusive parent, tottering on the ragged edge with her autistic son. Our Jess, the one we started the movie with, intervenes and kills the abusive version. She then takes her son, Tommy, and the corpse of the other version of herself (wrapped up in the trunk of her car) and leaves, promising to never hurt Tommy again and to be a better person.

But she’s still in the loop – or a larger loop – something that becomes apparent when she hits a seagull and goes to throw it over the embankment only to see piles of dead seagulls. She drives away but, distracted, she crashes into a truck. Tommy is killed and the body of the other Jess is found at the scene.

“Y’all call fer an Uber?”

 

To me, the key scene is the aftermath of the car crash. There’s a man, “just a driver,” he says, who tells Jess that there’s nothing that can be done. The boy is dead. And then he offers to give her a ride. She chooses to go back to the dock. To the boat and Greg and Victor and the others. To start the loop again, maybe hoping to figure it out and get through the loop again and come out the other side with her son.

I think the driver – dressed in black, looking almost like a priest – is actually some kind of messenger trying to get Jess to leave the loop. To stop her Sisyphean task of trying to make everything come out right. I think the original Jess snapped and killed Tommy (probably at 8:17, the same time as her watch is stopped), and this loop is her punishment. Possibly one of her own making. The others are caught up in it as they all died when the boat capsized (maybe Heather actually survived, which is why we never see her after the storm).

“Are you sure there even WAS a Heather on board?”

 

Melissa George is great as Jess, selling panic and determination. The other actors also do a decent job – managing nearly flawless American accents. Smith handles the directing duties well, keeping a good pace and atmosphere while serving up the occasional visual gut punch. The ending is surprisingly poignant, even if it’s not completely satisfying.

The Bottom Line
Triangle is an excellent, intense time-loop thriller that may play a little fast and loose with its own rules (what’s up with the rotting food, and why is Heather even a character?), but remains a satisfying film all the same.

The Bottom Line
Triangle is an excellent, intense time-loop thriller that may play a little fast and… hey, wait a minute….