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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

4 March

The USS Cyclops disappears, 1918

On this day in 1918, the USS Cyclops disappeared at sea, with a loss of 306 crew and passengers. It remains the single largest naval disaster not involving enemy attack in US history. The ship was carrying manganese, an ingredient in munitions production, and so the suspicion was at the time that the ship had been sunk by the Germans, with whom the US was at war, though this has never been confirmed. The other theory is that the ship encountered a heavy storm after leaving Bahia, Brazil, bound for Baltimore, Maryland. The ship was probably overloaded with manganese ore and had a cracked cylinder in its starboard engine, which rendered the engine unusable. En route for Baltimore she made an unscheduled stop in Barbados, due to water being over the Plimsoll line, indicating overloading. The Cyclops left Barbados on the 4 March and was never seen again. No wreckage was ever found. The sister ships of the Cyclops, the Proteus and the Nereus, also disappeared in similar circumstances, heavily laden with metallic ore, in the North Atlantic during the Second World War. One theory has it that all three ships suffered catastrophic structural failure. Another posits that they were all victims of the Bermuda Triangle.

Triangle (2009, dir: Christopher Smith)

The British director Christopher Smith made a couple of promising pictures – monstered-on-the-London-Underground flick Creep, then monstered-in-the-woods feature Severance – before making this UK/Australian co-production, a monstered-on-the-high-seas movie starring Melissa George, who dons the white T shirt early on to denote that she is going to be “final girl”. Smith, though, is ahead of us, with a story that sticks very close to what we’re expecting before taking off with two unexpected and entirely welcome shunts sideways. The basic plot sees single mum Melissa George parking her autistic kid somewhere (safe? we’re not sure) before heading off for a day’s sailing with friends. The boat hits a terrible storm, capsizes and suddenly the friends find themselves grouped together on the upturned hull of the boat, terrified. Then, from out of nowhere, a hulking old liner passes by and they all get on. No one is on board, Melissa George is pulling the sort of spooked expressions her pillowy lips equip her for and then director/writer Smith pulls the first of his two plot dummies by visiting terrible murder on the assembled gang. I’m not going to say more than that about the plot, except that MG obviously survives – the power of the white T shirt – and that there’s another twist coming which will be sucked up by people who love parallel universes and time-travel paradoxes, an actress who is capable of playing bad, good, bewildered and scared and who have the patience to explain to the ADHD contingent just who is doing what to whom and why at any given moment. Concentrate, in other words. Continuing to tweak genre expectations right to the end, this offbeat sci-fi offering is Smith’s best film to date.

Why Watch?

  • A skilfully plotted film from a talented director
  • Avoids the dreaded green screen and uses real sets when possible
  • On lots of “under-appreciated” films of the year lists
  • An early movie role for Liam Hemsworth

Triangle – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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