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Trauma (2004)
Director: Marc Evans

review by Paul Higson

Produced by Little Bird Productions along with BBC Films, Warner and The Ministry of Fear, Trauma, Marc Evans follow-up to My Little Eye, could not be more of a disappointment, though in truth why should my expectations have been so high? Didn't I leave House Of America unmoved? Didn't I see Resurrection Man unimpressed? And wasn't the marvellously effective My Little Eye primarily generic storytelling beneath its extreme effectiveness. It should not have changed the message that Evans' starting point is going to be the obvious and the film's effectiveness might hang on the camerawork, sound effects and editing. Not that there is not a good idea in Trauma, it is simply that the notion is not on the surface. The fancy was clearly there throughout the drafting and filming, they simply forgot to let the audience in on it, the big idea buried in a kaleidoscope of flash and useless tricks with no character or dialogue of sufficient interest to keep it going until� In fact there are two ideas, but you might need the director and scriptwriter, Richard Smith, on stage post-screening to bring that across and I don't think they are going to accompany it on all screens.

It is particularly disappointing as this is the first film with accreditation from Lizzie Francke's Ministry Of Fear, a commissioning production company that's working towards the development of commercial and experimental horror-thrillers in the UK. One hundred and fifty prints hit the screens shortly, and as if the ponderous unwrapping won't be killer enough, genre confusion is going to rile viewers also. Even the makers are not certain whether or not this is a horror film. To be completely honest, neither am I, with far more gruelling frights more commonplace in regular terrestrial programming strands. The first of the parallel story plan is the haunting mystery, the second a study in grief. The latter is nearly successful, enough that its forefront reading replaces the possibility of something more frightening, the madness or a murderer in the vicinity; nothing else is really pushed at the viewer. What can be interpreted has become a straightforward, functionary simple plot, fractured by angle, the take. The befuddlement so great at the beginning, matched only by the characterless dressings and players, slowly pushed out that there is no alternative but to think of something else, like the time. How often did I check those luminous hands on my watch? Was it really only 94 minutes running time?

Ben (Colin Firth) survives a car crash, his memory flashing back to the beautiful wife, Elisa (Naomie Harris of 28 Days Later), who is not in the hospital, well certainly not on a ward and in traction. On his feet he wanders into the television room were staff and patients alike are transfixed by events unfurling onscreen, the murder of a popular young singer by assailant unknown. "My wife is dead," he informs a nurse. It seems unrelated to the murder yet we suspect more, the line of separation is not pronounced, but that is another clever plot point that you eventually couldn't care less to notice. Making the statement to the nurse suggests that without his lost lover he is alone, that in order to begin channelling he has nobody to report this shattering news to other than a stranger. We soon find out how small his company is. Ben takes unhealthy interest in the dead celebrity, is noticed at the reconstruction and possesses a scrapbook, the shock of the accident and his 'loss' triggering in him post-mortem stalker behaviour. Hey, good thing he has an alibi, comas and attendant nurses are hard to dispute. That doesn't stop the suspicions of a detective (Kenneth Cranham) on the case, nor an angry visit by the murdered singer's distraught manager (Martin Hancock, popularly known for his turn as Spider in Coronation Street). Then there is the 'landlady', Charlotte, a young blonde American, token daresay, taking care of her father's London properties, and also handy in that it allows a top US name (Mena Suvari) for that bigger side of the Atlantic to wave mental flags for. But in this story the big question is what is live and what is a snagged and twisted Memorex.

In fairness to the young writer, Richard Smith, the structuring and ideas are good with three, possibly four, lanes travelling in the same direction misread in all the fuzz as only a slightly deliberately confusing one story. But Richard is still to be faulted in making the details so bland and precise and leaving the dialogue so torpid. It is impossible to find interest in the clich�d conversation and simplistic quirks, like the ant-farm Ben keeps or the basement in the converted hospital naturally have been the former mortuary, the names of the dead scribbled on the walls by the attendants. The detective can't help but remind the audience that "the killer often returns to the scene of crime" and one so wishes that someone on the screen would say anything remotely original or amusing. There is even a dull psychic (played by Brenda Fricker) in audience who homes in on Ben that the film could very much do without. One considers the skilfulness of a similar scene in Pete Walker's Schizo. The script should at some stage have been submitted for redrafting to someone with more of a penchant for dialogue.

The utmost blame is squarely upon Marc Evans who has given us a skittering film and who should have had the experience to demand more character in the script or recognised a sensible edit was needed, the footage must surely be there to at least provide a less irritating film. Camera tricks are miscalculated and a dull pop song ruins scenes. Other scenes appear not to progress the story and in their dullness never fail to remind us of that instantly. In retrospect it was eventful, but during projection it is a bore. Evans has clearly never really solved the problems that arose on his first two features, and the visual and aural shocks of My Little Eye look increasingly like a fluke. Furthermore, the film dips into better films too obviously. One sequence, complete with constant forward movement and the schismatic swaddled occupants of hospital beds, is a major unworthy bow to Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder, the effect was similar to the foolish introduction of readings from Jack Kerouac's On The Road into House Of America only to emphasise how dull the dialogue was. I doubt the Lyne nods were Smith input. It will take some convincing to get me stumping up for a ticket for a Marc Evans film again.

Evans selected a programme of eight films depicting grief and madness for the Cornerhouse to coincide with the release of Trauma, a broad hint of the tentative hold that his preferences have on the genre, a heavy handed point made. He may need to learn more from Roeg's Don't Look Now and Aronofsky's Requiem For A Dream than he might from Todd Haynes' Safe or John Maybury's Love Is The Devil. Better still, do something of quality just over the other side of the divide as was done in Some Voices or Betty Blue. I think the Ministry of Fear criteria is correct; we need terror films from the UK that are commercial, experimental and exploitable, in turn if not in one. It could come in the Sheffield dark wave of Jelly Dolly, Dead Dog Shoes and Principals Of Lust, or digital cross-genre fare like This Is Not A Love Song or The Last Great Wilderness, all initially exciting, delivered alongside good traditional, commercial horrors like Deathwatch. We need the British equivalent of The Piano Teacher, Funny Games, Audition, Extension du Domaine de la Lutte (aka: Whatever) or Requiem For A Dream. Trauma is not it though, not at all.
Trauma

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