DIRECTOR Stephen Manuel WRITER Peter Arneson STARS Axel Wedekind, Rungano Nyoni DVD 19 January
With an intriguing concept, singular location, cast of two and a highly claustrophobic atmosphere, director Stephen Manuel’s low-budget thriller initially holds much promise. Beginning as a creepy blend of James Wan’s Saw and Vincenzo Natali’s existential horror Cube, it succeeds in defying expectations by veering along a completely unexpected trajectory.
Kinetic camerawork, extreme angles and the character’s gradual realisation of his predicament establish a sense of intrigue and tension, and Manuel does his best to inject a sense of urgency into the story of a man who awakens to find himself imprisoned in a concrete cell by captors unknown. Certain items in the room have an apparent significance attached to them — the dead rat; the locked cabinet — and at various points there are hints that Rube Goldbergesque domino-effect death contraptions may ensue. This is, rather refreshingly, not the case, as Peter Arneson’s screenplay reveals itself to be more concerned with the inextinguishable strength of the human spirit. The nameless man’s sense of exhaustion as he attempts to escape is aptly conveyed, and his gradual desperation leads to various gross-out moments — drinking his own urine; munching on maggots — which Manuel never shirks from depicting in gleeful close-up.
There’s ample heart-wrenching drama to be wrought from such a scenario, as the characters’ will to survive deteriorates, but a weak script means tedium sets in where tension should abound. The plot’s basic but strangely meandering nature provides little in the way of characterisation; it merely skims the surface of how the two egotistical and selfish individuals eventually soften. As the nameless man and woman, Axel Wedekind and Rungano Nyoni can’t compel us to invest in their unsympathetic characters, meaning we only care about them on a perfunctory, basic human level. Indeed, the female character, who makes her admittedly striking entrance halfway through, is one of the most redundant and actually rather insulting in recent memory. Vague parallels between the characters and Adam and Eve, and a bizarre conclusion, reveal lofty ambitions and metaphorical leanings. Indeed, certain moments throughout toy with the fruitful idea of life and sustenance emerging from death and decay: the man eats maggots from the dead rat; the woman initiates intercourse with him to raise his spirits and pull him back from the brink of death. These moments are lost in the increasing tedium, and while the latter appears to be set up as a crucial development in the woman’s character arc, it lacks any sort of impact due to her character being so underdeveloped to begin with. The ending lacks the haunting ambiguity it presumably intended, and while kudos must be given for the filmmakers’ attempts to create something more thoughtful than the usual Saw-inspired torture porn, with very limited means, sadly Iron Doors just lacks the edge to pull it all off satisfactorily.