Based on a play by Terry Hughes, Lawrence Gough’s follow-up to Salvage – which was also more or less housebound for its first acts – opens with bright headlights in the dark night … and then has a shaken couple – Nicole (Olivia Bonamy) and Steve (Ben Cura) – returning to their isolated, spacious, moderne home in the middle of a black nowhere. Steve looks under the car and finds a crushed pair of glasses with bloody hair attached and responds to Nicole’s reminder that he’s just committed a hit-and-run with verbal and physical violence in a hysterical attempt to shift the blame onto her. Then, a policeman (Samuel West) – who has a very unconventional approach to investigating a supposed report of a prowler – shows up, dripping with friendly menace … and things take a bizarre, cathartic turn that seems to visit justice upon the deeply loathesome Steve.
However, after an act fade, we’re some months later – Nicole has had a baby – and the couple are still together, with Nicole stressed by the appearance in her luxury kitchen of Sid (Anton Lesser), an unctuous stranger who also has a menacing glint beneath his friendliness and who cycles through conversational niceties while both wait for Steve to get home, which he does (in a typically foul mood) to precipitate an escalating back-and-forth that teases possibilities of justifiably dire or unmerited positive consequences for the couple’s earlier behaviour.
Elements here suggest the Squirming Awful People Do Very Bad Things sub-genre of Stuck, A Simple Plan or Shallow Grave, but the oblique, deliberately non-naturalistic transformation of character-based suspense into near-surreal nightmare takes the piece into Harold Pinter territory … with West and Lesser, who play seemingly unrelated characters but might both be demons set on these terrible people, talking genially around the subject in a manner calculated to ennervate the desperate Nicole and the insensitive Steve, with the promise of actual violence that takes the film on a detour into slightly blunter horror that paradoxically eases the tension.
Part of the hook of stories like this is the sense of how small mistakes can be compounded into bigger transgressions, and Steve’s instinct always to do the wrong thing – whether browbeating his partner (wife?) or tempted to accept praise and reward he really doesn’t deserve – making the quagmire he is in deeper and stickier. Gough doesn’t disguise the piece’s stage origins, and makes a virtue of the claustrophobia and artificial isolation – but the camera glides around the single-level showroom-style house like a stalker in a John Carpenter movie, emphasising the dark spaces and brightly-lit traps the characters have locked themselves into, evoking the besieged and monster-blighted heroine of Salvage.
It’s essentially a two-act play, and getting out of the house – albeit into a darker field – for a coda which has a little more conventional car action makes for a slightly jarring finale. Bonamy has to play the most difficult role – keeping a lid on what she’s feeling for fear that any of the three male characters will suddenly savage her, yet shackled to the situation by the fifth character in the drama, the baby. Hughes adapted his play with Gough and Alan Pattison.