The phrase "at sea" sometimes means that you're actually out on the water, sometimes it means you're unsure or uncertain of what's going on. In Triangle, everyone - protagonists and viewers alike - is at sea. Just when things begin to cohere, we are upended again to fine effect.
The movie wrong-foots us right away: We open on a distraught mother comforting her child, telling him it's all going to be okay and it was just a bad dream. So there isn't even a pretense of everything being okay. Even though it appears to be a jump forward, that strong image lingers through the more mundane proceedings that follow, as we watch a calmer version of the mother go about her day. The sunshine, the green grass, the lawn sprinkler, all of it is suffused with dread, much like the over-bright, over-clean imagery in Blue Velvet. Everything's a little off. We know it won't last.
This skewed feeling isn't helped any by the editing, which is jumpy and fragmentary. Lots of isolated instances of activity but little sense of transition between them. Mother is taking down the laundry, then mother is cleaning a spill off the floor and being upset when it gets on her dress, then mother is packing the car, then mother is gathering up her son. There's no flow to the day's events. We see things happen, but not what happens in between. The doorbell rings, but nobody is there. Mother and son leave.
We cut to a group of people preparing for a sailing trip. Greg owns the boat, Victor's a young man Greg has taken on, Downey is a high school friend of Greg's, Sally is his wife, and Heather is a nice young woman Sally brought along to try and set up with Greg, who she thinks needs a lady friend. Greg is angry that they brought Heather along, but it's not clear why. There's tension in the air, and it only increases when the mother we met in the opening credits comes aboard. Her name is Jess, Sally appears really unhappy to see her, and her son isn't with her. She tells Victor that her son is "in school." It's a Saturday. She looks distracted, haunted almost. The boat gets underway.
So we've got a boatful of people with secrets and weird tension stranded in the middle of the ocean on the wreckage of their boat (minus Heather, who was lost at sea during the storm), and this is when the 1930s-era luxury liner comes steaming out of the mist, pulling alongside the wreckage, allowing them to board. The pristine luxury liner with no visible passengers or crew. Pretty much the floating equivalent of the Overlook Hotel. Shots spin around identical, mazelike ships' corridors, we follow the protagonists in one direction, only to cut to an entirely different direction. We are dislocated in space as much now as we were dislocated in time at the beginning of the movie.
Soon, even causality begins to break down as people attack each other, accuse each other of things they didn't do, and find themselves stalked by shadowy figures. The simmering tension suddenly erupts, and even as the viewer starts to put the pieces together, the truth of the situation reveals its horror in bits, in sudden discoveries. It's a violent movie in places, and it escalates, but it isn't gratuitous. By the time the denouement comes, we know enough to know what to look for, and every odd piece falls into place. Triangle is a smart, restrained horror story, one which rewards careful observation and understanding. Like the best of Brad Anderson's work, the whole story is both more personal and more awful than we might have thought at first, and as a result, the viewer is left feeling more sad at the end of the journey than relieved. At the end of the day, nobody escapes. What washes ashore is carried back to sea.
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Available on Netflix