DIRECTOR Levan Bakhia WRITER Levan Bakhia; Adrian Colussi; Lloyd S. Wagner STARS Sterling Knight; Spencer Locke; Dean Geyer DIGITAL 7 March
Echoing the likes of Phone Booth and Buried, and indeed Bakhia’s debut feature, 247°F (2011), Landmine Goes Click holds much promise with its high-concept premise. Boasting a constantly twisting plot which intrigues as much as it infuriates, the film explores how the lives of three American friends are altered forever when, travelling through Eastern Europe, one of them steps on a landmine. Unable to move for fear of detonating it, he and his friends are the captive audience of unveiled secrets, shifting dynamics and the darker side of human nature.
The central idea is used as doorway to explore the desperate, at times despicable things people do when their lives are threatened. Initially set up as a taut three-way drama examining friendship, loyalty and trust, an early twist moves the story into an unexpected arena. From here, Bakhia showcases his deft ability to mount tension — which comes from the relentlessly bleak tone and even more relentlessly heinous actions of certain characters — but a meandering script threatens to plunge proceedings into tedium. Another twist at the halfway mark takes the story into yet more unexpected territory. Again, while tension is mercilessly ratcheted up, events are marred by a lack of characterisation and a simplistic black-and-white perspective. Characters are essentially cogs in a machine of cruelty, existing only to provide actions, or reactions, which drive the protagonist’s quest into darkness.
As events unfurl, a very grim depiction of humanity becomes the film’s overriding theme. Early aerial shots seem to highlight the insignificance of the characters amidst vast landscapes and speak not only of the intimacy of their unfolding drama, but of its ultimate trivialness in the bigger picture. It’s unfortunate that a large part of what initially drives the plot pivots on misogynistic slut-shaming. Indeed, the only sympathetic character is Alicia (Spencer Locke) — her actions don’t seem to stem from guilt as much as from loyalty to her friend and a sure sense of what is right and wrong.
Like the remake of I Spit on Your Grave, the narrative focus momentarily shifts from the traumatised protagonist to a vile perpetrator in the moments before revenge is sought. It might have been more interesting to explore how exactly the character reached the decision to become a bloody avenger. Revenge and human degradation drive the final act, but again, proceedings aren’t nearly as devastating as they could have been due to black-and-white morality and the smug glee exuded by the avenger. That said, the final moments provide a chilling denouement, made all the more potent by the silent reaction that accompanies them.
Landmine Goes Click is one of those films best viewed without knowing anything about it. After the near tedium of the first segment, the various plot twists maintain interest, though its relentlessly bleak tone may prove too gruelling for some. An almost perfect exercise in queasy tension, it would have benefitted from a much tighter script and a little more attention to characterisation.