GETTING A BAD WRAP

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The presence of cults in genre films is nothing particularly new. Aside from the obvious Satan-loving groupies in films like “The Devil Rides Out” or “Rosemary’s Baby”, the more insidious and realistic versions of dangerous cults appear in movies like “The Sacrament” or “The Wicker Man”. Some of these take inspiration from the tragic likes of Jim Jones’ “People’s Temple” or Charlie Manson’s homicidal disciples. However, whilst “The Triangle” has a “commune” at the centre of its plot, it’s certainly nothing like those previous examples mentioned. It’s ostensibly a found-footage/mockumentary but distances itself from other offerings like “Blair Witch” in its subject matter and visuals. It’s also one of those productions that had a less-than typical route to the screen, with ALL the cast playing “themselves” (including camera men and directors). Also known in some territories as “The People of Shem”, it shouldn’t be confused as being anything to do with the infamous Bermuda Triangle (we’re landlocked here people), or the time-loop film with Melissa George. After a home media release in the States, it’s now available on the same market in the UK. So YGROY decides to visit “The Triangle”, but we won’t go too near because It makes people disappear (“Are you quoting Manilow!??” – Ed).

In Los Angeles in 2012, Adam Stillwell (all their own names, remember) is sent a mysterious postcard from his long-missing buddy Nathaniel. It explains that he has joined a secluded commune in Montana collectively called “Ragnarok”. He also invites Stillwell up to the camp to film his new lifestyle and some other things that are hinted to be going on. Intrigued by the invitation he accepts and being a documentarian (of course), he starts to film the whole trip, as well as bringing three fellow filmmakers to produce a full-length recording of the experience. When they meet up with the group, they find it to be nothing like the cult they imagined it would be. Hi-tech yurts are mounted in a triangular formation in the middle of the Montana desert, and there’s a plentiful source of food and water. The group are mostly remnants from the “Burning Man” festivals or artists wanting to escape from the trappings of modern society. It’s a typical hippy retreat with no real major belief system. Subsequently the filmmakers are treated mostly with respect and they return the favour whilst shooting the documentary. However, a strange discovery and a hidden secret amongst some of the commune lead to a number of weird and unsettling events.

Let’s get one thing straight here, not everybody is going to like this film. Inevitably some people will hate it, especially in the final moments or the slow-burn first half. The gimmick of having the entire cast and crew play versions of their own characters and some of the slightly cheesy effects will only compound that. But having said that, it has found many fans online, and we quite liked it.

To start with, the presence of professional filmmakers (both real and “fictional”) gives the film the air of a genuine documentary. There are split-screens used to good effect (one sequence even feels comparable to De Palma’s “Carrie” in execution) and the cinematography is great. The opening sequence with its US road trip full of Americana (road accidents and wacky local attractions) is nicely mounted, before culminating in a Montana bar complete with “Freedom Fries” and anti-Obama t-shirts.

This adherence to realism continues into the actual commune itself. According to sources almost everything that happens in the film happened on the set in real time. It was an actual functioning compound for the two weeks it took to shoot the principal photography. And in a throwback to “Blair Witch”, the actors were told only what they would know within the plot, with their reactions captured as they heard developments. It shows in the performances which are uniformly believable and excellent. If you were to happen upon the movie during a late-night channel surf and didn’t check listings, you would genuinely think you were watching a bona-fide documentary on alternative lifestyles. Well, for the first part at least…

It is a very slow-burning plot it has to be said. For almost two-thirds of the film, there is not a hint of any genre elements, except perhaps for some minor ailments hitting some of the characters. Then it abruptly switches to some (literal) trippiness and a plot development that goes for full-on out-there weirdness. It’s an admittedly abrupt tone-change, but some further narrative details and revelations qualify some of the build-up and brings some clarity into what’s strange about the group. It contains an important interview sequence that’s quite chilling, especially as it’s so underplayed.

The ending is certainly going to divide opinions. It does rely on some old found-footage tropes and some of it feels a little old-school and cheesy. But there’s still something haunting and disturbing about it. Much of the drive to continue to watch the events unfold in “Ragnarok” is the way in which the emotional groundwork has been laid and curiosity over what the eventual outcome will be.

Despite the fact that the end credits eye-rollingly include “You”, the gimmick of the cast playing themselves and immersing the crew in the location doesn’t feel pretentious. It’s played out like a straightforward narrative and doesn’t really have any kind of underlying social message (except that you will always need emergency services and “townies”, even if you won’t admit it). There are issues with the ending but otherwise it remains a watchable and unusual way to tell an offbeat genre tale. The combination of an underlying “mystery”, realistic portrayals and filmmaking, and an out-there climax make it an atypical little experience for those willing to take a chance with it. The additional presence of unexpected improvised moments (a tiny mouse steals some food) and natural phenomena (humongous storms) adds to the charm of the presentation. As do some lines like; “What are we going to put as an address? A GPS co-ordinate?”

Overall, as we stated, it’s not going to work for everybody. But we appreciated the presentation of the story (along with the dedication of the crew) and the quality of most of the visuals. The offbeat nature of the genre elements was also refreshing in its way, and the slow build-up gives it more impact. It’s the sort of film that we would cautiously recommend, with the previous cowardly caveats. As one of the commune members says; “Enter without any sort of expectation and you shall be rewarded in kind”.

DVD Extras: Lost in the Triangle. Nothing apart from a couple of film trailers.

As far as summer blockbusters go, it’s a fairly decent example and enjoyable for all that. But it feels disappointing when you take into account that it’s the herald of such a promising franchise, and that the plot is so messy and unfocused. There are some nice touches, but it’s really nothing that you haven’t seen before, and the “Dark Universe” will have to up its game for future entries.
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