Written and Directed by: David Twohy
Starring: Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant, and Kiele Sanchez
Reviewed by: Brett G.
” Nothing bad ever happens in Hawaii, right?”
A Perfect Getaway has plenty of not-so-perfect elements working against it in theory. After all, we’ve seen plenty of idyllic-vacation-gone-horrifyingly-wrong films in our time, not to mention plenty of psychological thrillers promising shocking twists and turns. The two in concert would seem destined to produce just another one for the pile, consigned to the flames of disinterest and disillusionment. Imagine my surprise when the film, released to theaters this past summer and home video about 4 months later, actually ended up being a clever little thriller that does manage some genuine shocks and thrills while working within its stale confines.
Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydey (Milla Jovovich) are a newlywed couple celebrating their honeymoon in Hawaii. The two have decided to hike to a remote beach to further celebrate; while on their way to the trail, the couple encounters two suspicious hitchhikers (Marley Shelton and Chris Hemsworth) who actually end up refusing a ride. Once Cliff and Cydney arrive at the trail, they encounter another couple, Nick, a special-ops veteran of the Iraq War, and Gina, a Georgia peach who happens to also be a former butcher. Before the couples make it very far, news about a brutal slaying of another newlywed couple reaches the island, which instills a healthy dose of paranoia among the group. What was meant to be a free-spirited hike becomes an intense and dangerous trek as the killer (or killers) could be lurking around the next curve.
While it’s far from perfect and treads on uneven ground for its first two acts, the film is rescued from the depths of mediocrity by an impressive third act. Fortunately, this third act is earned by the performances of all involved. There’s not a lot in the way of plot for the first hour; instead, the actors carry the film on their backs by creating some rather compelling and interesting characters. It’s nice to see Zahn play something than his usual idiot character, and Jovovich is charismatic and believable as the somewhat naïve Cydney. Timothy Olyphant seems to be channeling an Aliens-era Bill Paxton in his performance as Nick, as he exudes a charming bravado and a hint of idiot savant to boot. He hails from my home state of South Carolina, and he even wears a t-shirt for the state’s second-rate university to prove it. At any rate, he exhibits a “good old boy” exterior that perhaps conceals a more deranged side, and Kiele Sanchez is a good counterpart in the role of Gina. The chemistry between the two makes it seem that these two off-kilter characters are made for each other after all.
As the characters get to know each other, the film is stealthily infused with a sense of menace that crouches and waits to strike after the film has lulled you into a sense of security. Cliff is a Hollywood screenwriter, which allows the narrative to have a bit of a meta-fictional element that pokes fun at the conventions of a thriller. As these winks and nods unfold, the film seems to be inviting you to take the simplest approach in solving its mystery. Indeed, the film seems to reveal itself far too early, leaving a hollow feeling as you fill in the blanks. However, writer/director Twohy is only getting started at this point, as he delivers quite a riveting third act whose analeptic structure manages to turn the film and its conventions on its head. It’s during this act that all the aforementioned character development pays off in a series of clever twists and turns.
The writing is quite clever in the sense that you’re sure it’s cheated you to get where it does; however, it doesn’t. It’s merely misleading like a good thriller should be, and half the fun is going back to see all the clues that feel so obvious the second time around. The film’s twst is one that might briefly cross your mind before writing it off as far-fetched, when in reality it makes more sense than you’d ever believe. Once the big reveal hits, the film does not let up, and because we care about the characters involved, their remaining trials and tribulations are still important. While it does rely on a fairly hefty contrivance, the ultimate conclusion is both suspenseful and satisfying.
More psychological thriller than a horror film, A Perfect Getaway does manage to feel horrifying at times. Towhy captures a sense of dread atmosphere in his beautiful Hawaiian scenery, and the film’s violence feels appropriately gritty without being graphic. As is the case with so many films of this type, the true horror comes from the depravity of human behavior. While it sounds trite and the horror world is full of psychopaths, our culprits’ motivations here are quite unique and even chilling. The film requires you to take note of the tiniest details to truly comprehend the scope of these motivations; perhaps its cleverest trick is hiding kernels of truths within a supposed façade of deception, a tactic that pays off well in the end.
The strong concept, plot, and acting overcome the film’s more unremarkable and mundane technical aspects. Towhy handles the action well, and the film is generally well-paced (if not overly long with some of its flashback sequences). The photography is solid and shows some stylistic flourishes here and there, and the film’s score is standard fare. Still, the film manages to satisfy, especially if you wrote it off during its theatrical run. Universal brought the film home on both DVD and Blu-ray, with both discs containing both the theatrical version and Towhy’s director’s cut. The DVD transfer gets the job done, even if it looks a bit too digitally processed, perhaps as a result of cramming two versions of the movie on one disc. The soundtrack fares better, as it’s appropriately atmospheric and delivers some good jolts along the way. There’s nothing in the way of special features, which makes this getaway package a little less appealing. However, if you’re a fan of psychological thrillers and whodunit films, it’s a trip worth taking. Buy it!
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