Sight & Sound (by Liese Spencer, Sept 2004) — contains spoilers
Ben wakes from a coma after a car crash to discover that his wife, Elisa, was killed in the accident. The outside world, meanwhile, is obsessed with the murder of pop star Lauren Parris, a death that receives saturation coverage in the media.
Attempting to start a fresh life, Ben moves into a new flat and begins to see the psychiatrist who helped him after the death of his parents. Elisa’s family are blanking but his old friend Tommy gives him some restoration work. HIs neighbour Charlotte is also sympathetic, taking Ben, who has been haunted by the image of his dead wife, along to a seance.
A police inspector questions Ben about the Parris murder. It transpires Elisa was one of her dancers. Ben and Charlottte go to another seance. The medium tells Ben that his wife is still alive. Ben visits Elisa’s sister Carrie to tell her the news. Carrie tells Ben to leave her family alone.
At a session with his shrink, Ben begins to suspect that he is losing his grip on reality and has invented Charlotte as a response to his grief. After spotting himself in the background of some newspaper photographs of Parris, Ben becomes obsessed that he had something to do with her murder but Carrie tells him that he was following Elisa, and that before the accident the couple’s marriage had broken down.
Elisa turns up at Ben’s flat to tell him that she and her family pretended she died in the crash so that he would leave her alone. Ben resolves to confront his feelings about Charlotte. Deciding that she is a figment of his imagination, he kills her. The building’s caretaker finds her body and Ben is admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
[Editor’s notes: This review necessarily reveals a surprise plot point] There are, generally speaking, two situations in which film audiences will accept their lead character questioning the nature of reality. Either they can be the amnesiac survivor of a near-fatal accident, or they must be some kind of artist. In Trauma, Colin Firth’s Ben—told of his wife’s death on waking from a car crash-induced coma—is both. This doubling up is symptomatic of an ambitious psychological thriller overloaded with everything but suspense.
New-age healers, psychoanalysts and clairvoyants; wives, femmes fatales, girls-next-door; ants and spiders: many of the stock elements of the psychological horror movie are present and correct. What’s not evident is the structure or pace to hold all this together. For all its interesting ideas and brooding atmosphere, neither characters nor concepts develop and the film loses momentum.
Which is a pity, because the latest feature from My Little Eye director Marc Evans and the first from Little Bird’s new Ministry of Fear label opens strongly. Although flashbacks are a staple of this kind of story, shock edits and stunning camerawork from John Mathieson make coma-victim lead character Ben’s return to consciousness jumpily compelling. The hallucinatory sequence in which hospital corpses try and fight their way out of plastic body bags, for instance, is truly terrifying.
Leaving aside the question of why someone who wants to make a fresh start would do so by moving in above an old hospital morgue, the scenes that follow, in which a grief-sickened Ben struggles to make sense of his situation, continue to grip and intrigue. But after the initial horrors and his reawakening, the film settles into a mood of enervating anxiety. What is the relationship of Ben’s wife Elisa to a murdered pop star? Did Ben kill her? If not, who painted out the portrait of Elisa on his wall? Is his new neighbour Charlotte too good to be true? Mena Suvari, who was cast as Charlotte to secure funding, doesn’t have the presence to pull off this pivotal role. Better cast is Firth, whether dressed in jodhpurs, as he’s been in his heritage heart-throb roles, or, as he is here, in sweaty stubble and hooded sweatshirt, Firth will always resemble a stolid solicitor, which suits the ambiguity required of Ben. Unsmiling and intense, he gives a great performance as the man who may or may not be a murderous stalker.
As Ben moves through a bleakly atmospheric London of dark underpasses, sodden fly posters and hostile crowds. Evans underlays his psychic disorientation with a real sense of urban dread. There are other nicely creepy touchs too: the cold blue, for instance, with which Evans embalms the old hospital; or the way Ben’s doubts creep out like his ants—first one, then a shifting black mass. And Brenda Fricker’s frumpy clairvoyant is properly uncanny.
The trouble is that, after a while, you want all these portentous fragments to start to add up to something. You want some questions answered. Instead, what you get are more questions (some posed by Kenneth Cranham, who seems to be playing a detective from another century). Meanwhile, the erratic Ben seems to be unravelling even more. If we knew him better we’d worry. But we don’t. In fact we don’t get to know anyone very well and consequently care little what happens to them.
With flashily evocative visuals and an excellent set design, Evans does a great job of representing a paranoid mind detached from reality, but in doing so he also keeps us detached from his characters. If the plot were more engrossing, he might get away with such emotional distance, but its disparate elements never quite slot together satisfactorily.
Directing a thriller from the perspective of a madman is always a challenge. You want people to see the world through their eyes and yet if you reveal their affliction too early your audience will discount them as unreliable and lose interest. By combining over-the-top symbolism (did we really need the spiders as well?) with sustained ambiguity, Evans tries to maximise audience unease so viewers will fill in the information vacuum with their own gothic imaginings. Instead, left in the dark for too long, the opposite happens: mystery turns into confusion and finally indifference. A clumsy exposition scene, in which the supposedly dead Elisa turns up at Ben’s flat, feels too little, too late, while the final revelation falls curiously flat.
The Observer (by Philip French, Sept 19, 2004)
Colin Firth star in puzzling and tiresome British releases . . . Marc Evans has followed his enjoyable debut My Little Eye with the tiresome Trauma, a psychological horror story shot on the Isle of Man and in the East End of London. Colin Firth, survivor of a car crash, believes himself to be a grieving widower and a murder suspect and most of what we see is taking place in his deluded head. It's been much better done recently in A Beautiful Mind and Cronenberg's Spider. Send Firth a get-well-soon card and avoid the film.
Daily Mail (by Christopher Tookey, Sept 17, 2004)
Verdict: The Trauma is to sit through it *
Marc Evans is a promising Welsh director whose last film was a neat, nasty horror flick called My Little Eye. Trauma is a more ambitious psychological thriller about a lonely man (Colin Firth, sporting almost as much designer stubble as Tom Cruise) who finds himself with partial amnesia after a car crash that caused the death of his wife (Naomie Harris).
He’s driven with guilt—after all, he was driving—and angered that the world seems more interested in mourning the almost simultaneous murder of a famous pop star. Other disturbing aspects include a medium who tells him his wife isn’t dead, the discovery that he may have been stalking the pop star before her demise, and a mysterious man in a parka who keeps stalking him. With all these things on his mind, he’s almost too self-involved to notice the romantic effect he is having on the young blonde girl next door (Mena Suvari)
Evans succeeds initially in intriguing us with nightmarish effects and fractured storytelling that leave us uncertain of how much is real and how much is in our anti-hero’s mind. But Evans’s repetitive use of similar shock tactics becomes an irritant. And he paces his story so lethargically that it fails to grip.
Despite Firth’s natural charm, it’s hard to become even slightly involved with his problems, since it’s evident from far too early that he’s extremely unbalanced. The twist, when it comes, is so trite, that it inspires not shock but the age-old question: ‘Is that all there is?’
It’s possible to see why Firth took this role—stereotyped as he has become as the diffident, romantic-comedy Englishman—but he has played this kind of disturbed anti-hero more effectively before, notably in an underrated little thriller called Apartment Zero (1988). Frankly, you’d have a better time watching that than sitting through this grim, relentlessly downbeat thriller which bores far more than it thrills.
Telegraph (by Tim Robey, Sept 17, 2004)
The failure of Trauma is both more blatant and somehow more interesting. A cramped but suggestive tour around one man's warped headspace, it comes from Welsh director Marc Evans, whose My Little Eye, a reality-TV reductio ad horrendum, was a cruel knockout quite unlike this lugubriously paced and uneventful chiller.
What Trauma does have is a frighteningly committed, career-best performance from Colin Firth as an accident survivor who thinks he's losing his mind. Evans's superb cinematographer John Mathieson (Love Is the Devil, Gladiator) assists with splintered, partially blurred compositions that have you constantly questioning their truth value.
And even if most viewers will give up on the film's noodly plot after a while, its conclusion serves up a nifty anti-twist that really bears thinking about.
You’ll find this psychological thriller either fascinating or infuriating. If you make sense of it, give yourself a gold star for beating those critics who tried to thrash out the plot after the preview. Colin Firth plays a man who seems to have lost his wife (Naomie Harris) in a road accident. She’s a backing vocalist for a major star who’s found floating in a river at the same time. Firth is pursued by police, apparently for the star’s murder. His memory is fragmented, but he believes his wife is alive—until he meets Charlotte (Mena Suvari), perhaps the reincarnation of the aunt who raised him, who’s terrified of the ants and spiders in his laboratory. Or is she a figment of his imagination? Confused? You will be.
Shoved back on the shelf more times than an unloved puppy, long-delayed London thriller Trauma was certainly not worth the wait. Artist/ant farmer Ben (Colin Firth, with the charisma of a wet ham sandwich) wakes from a coma to discover that his wife was killed in a car crash—while he was driving. Discharged from the hospital, Ben feels stalked by grief and the non-stop coverage about a recently murdered rock diva—who uncannily resembles his dead wife. My Little Eye director Marc Evans's jumpy, flick-and-blink camera work drills further into his obsessions of CCTV voyeurism and dark desires, twitching away any toeholds on reality: is Ben's wife actually dead? Is the pretty landlady Charlotte (American Beauty's Mena Suvari) a figment of his trauma? Is he the killer? And do we actually give a stuff? Not really, is the only answer you can be sure of in this relentlessly skittery narrative whose most unreal proposition is the clipped-toned Mr Darcy as a stubble-chinned Hackney art student.
Irish Times (by Donald Clarke, Sept 17, 2004) - 2 of 5 stars
Huh? Marc Evans, director of the fine horror film My Little Eye, must surely have been intrigued by the echoes of Don't Look Now in the script for this brain-numbingly baffling psychological thriller.
Like Nic Roeg's great film, Trauma focuses on the aftermath of an early death as it follows its bereaved hero through a series of narrative conundrums towards an enigmatic conclusion. Unlike Don't Look Now, Trauma offers us no firm ground on which to stand and survey the landscape.
The film is a mass of bluff, confusion, illusion and mystery. Many viewers will be frustrated.
Ben, played by the unhelpfully cuddly Colin Firth, is released from hospital after suffering serious injuries in the same car accident that killed his wife and, still dazed, scarred and mopey, moves into a draughty apartment building. Unsurprisingly neither the gloomy ambience of the echoing pile, formerly a hospital, nor the presence of an eccentric caretaker lifts his mood. But Mena Suvari, as gaunt and gecko-eyed as ever, is lurking about the corridors offering a little bit of good cheer.
While Ben is trying to make sense of everything, the rest of London is in mourning for a murdered pop star. Maybe the singer and Ben's wife are one and the same person. Maybe Suvari is a figment of Ben's imagination. Maybe the hero killed one of the two women. Maybe a bucket of Solpadeine will ease this pounding between my temples.
Oddly, though Trauma makes less sense than is decent for any film not directed by a Korean, it never quite becomes boring. Beautifully photographed in deeply saturated colours by John Mathieson of Gladiator fame and featuring an insidiously creepy sound design, the picture has a very secure grasp of its own murky milieu. Although much of the picture was shot on the Isle of Man, Evans does a good job of conjuring up an eerily fantastic version of contemporary London.
Trauma is indisputably the work of one of the UK's more singular directors. But those expecting neat resolutions should approach with caution.
The Mirror (by David Edward, Sept 17, 2004) - 3 out of 5 stars
I just don’t get Colin Firth. His acting range thus far has been limited to Looking Grumpy and Looking Grumpy While Brooding About Arsenal. In Trauma, he does Grumpy and Slightly Doolally as car crash victim/artist/insect expert, Ben. “My wife is dead,” he tells the nurse when he wakes from his coma. But the rest of the country is mourning the murder of pop star Lauren Parris and Ben frets that he may somehow be mixed up in Lauren’s death too. Only American Beauty’s Mena Suvari adds a dash of sugary blondeness to his gloom.
Marc Evans’ follow-up to his dead-good thriller My Little Eye boasts some cool camera work but suffers from too many loose ends, red herrings and contrived weirdness. Since when, for instance, do the police tell a suspect exactly how the victim was killed? And the fact that Ben lives in a converted hospital should be enough to make you wonder how this script ever got planning permission.
THE REEL LOWDOWN:
BEST QUOTE: “Ants are a lot like humans, except they don’t kill their own kind.” Colin Firth has a David Attenborough moment
BEST BIT: The nightmare with all the bugs.
WORST BIT: Kenneth Cranham’s detective.
IF YOU LIKED... Gothika, Spider… you’ll like this.
Daily Record (by Alan Morrison, Sept 17, 2004)
When he wakes up from a coma, Ben (Colin Firth) discovers that his wife dead and his obsessive interest in the murder of a pop star has made him the chief suspect. Even the kindly attention of young landlady Charlotte (Mina Suvari) can't help him piece together the fragments of his memory. When this British horror-thriller is in Memento territory, it's not too bad. Firth plays it sullen rather than sexy, while director Marc Evans (My Little Eye) successfully pulls us into the fractured world inside his main character's head.
Unfortunately, when the plot twist is revealed, everything crashes to a halt. Nothing we've been watching makes sense any more and we feel utterly cheated and confused. It's a case of a terrible ending ruining what was only a mediocre movie in the first place.
The Guardian (by Steve Rose, Sept 17, 2004)
What's this? Colin Firth looking a bit of a mess? Scarred, unshaven, double bags under his eyes—he's a long way from Mr Darcy here, and it suits him.
Unfortunately Marc Evans' follow-up to his clever horror My Little Eye is a bit of a mess, too. It's one of those fractured "I don't know what's real" psychological jigsaw movies, but there are simply too many pieces to put together.
Firth wakes up from a coma to find his wife dead and the nation mourning a murdered pop star, but, as he tries to get on with life, it's clear his version of events is not to be trusted. And so the questions pile up.
Where does arachnophobic neighbour Suvari fit in? Who's that detective asking questions? What does Charlotte's Web have to do with it? Or the guy in the hooded parka? Or the church psychic? Or the well-lit basement full of shoes? Or the ant farm? It's all so fragmented, there's never a chance for momentum to build up.
The Herald (by Hannah McGill, Sept 16, 2004)
Welsh director Marc Evans's second feature depicts in introspective enigmatic fragments the mental unravelment of lonely oddball Ben (Colin Firth). Ben's wife has just been killed in a car crash—but was it an accident, or is he in some way implicated? What does this have to do with the recent murder of a prominent British pop star? And how much does Ben's new neighbour (Mena Suvari) know about it? The answers are kept obscure, finally overloading the movie with a twist too many. Still, exquisite production design, creepy imagery and a possible career best performance from Firth hold the attention.
The Times (by James Christopher, Sept 16, 2004) - 2 stars out of 5:
Marc Evans’s convoluted thriller Trauma starts with a bang and ends in confusing pieces. His first film, My Little Eye, was a magnificent piece of clean horror that pushed the internet’s insatiable appetite for reality TV to a shocking conclusion. He overstretches himself with this psychological drama to such an extent that it’s quite impossible to work out what on earth is going on.
Colin Firth wakes up from a coma to discover that his wife (Naomie Harris) has been killed in a car crash while he was at the wheel. Unable to make sense of his grief, his sanity unravels. So does reality. Kenneth Cranham’s detective suspects him of murdering a pop star. Mena Suvari’s sympathetic neighbour takes him to a medium who tells him his wife is still alive. Firth retreats into spooky isolation.
It’s not wilfully tedious—Firth is grimly watchable as the manic hero—but it doesn’t trip off the screen.
Evening Standard (by Derek Malcolm, Sept 16, 2004)
Can anyone tell me what happened in that film?" asked a fellow critic after the screening of Trauma. Answer, I'm afraid, came there none, since Marc Evans's latest is a riddle within a riddle—a psychological thriller the conclusion of which we are supposed to interpret for ourselves. At least, I hope this is so. Otherwise, Evans has failed in a big way.
Yet this British director is a fine film-maker, potentially one of our best, as My Little Eye, in 2001, also suggested. And he has certainly secured a performance from Colin Firth in the central role that is as good as any he has given us. Firth plays a man who wakes from a coma after a car crash to find the world mourning the death and probable murder of a pop star. He believes he was driving the car and that his wife died in the accident, but we eventually learn that his grasp on reality is at best tenuous.
Maybe his wife was not in the car and perhaps she had left him for another. Perhaps it was he who murdered the pop star, as the police suspect.
Evans encompasses all this—and a possibly imagined love affair with a friendly neighbour (Mena Suvari)—with an admirably imaginative technical-prowess, and Firth plays his distraught hero in a way that makes the character's fractured psyche seem all too real.
But the plot threads are as confused as he is, and it sometimes looks as if the director is searching as hard as the rest of us for the answers. The result is a film that feels more like a European art movie than anything else, but one would hate to see Evans pigeon-holed: his is a rare talent which should be put to the service of films that reach a wider public than this is likely to manage.
Edinburgh Evening News (Sept 16, 2004) - 1 of 5 stars
There are few things more frustrating than horror movies that are ashamed of what they are.
Trauma is being marketed as a horror movie, is directed by Marc Evans, who made the excellent serial killer-meets- Big Brother flick My Little Eye and is produced by a subsidiary of British company Little Bird, the Ministry Of Fear that has been set-up to produce horror movies. But it’s not a horror movie. Oh no. What is it then? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.
Ben (Colin Firth) awakes from a coma to find that his wife Elisa has died in a car crash that may or may not have been his fault. Ben is grief-stricken, confused and after a few weeks in hospital attempts to rebuild his life by moving out of the marital home and into an apartment in a spooky converted hospital. Bad idea.
As is the casting of American Beauty’s Mena Suvari as the young woman Firth gets to reluctantly flirt with in his usual clipped, emotionally repressed manner.
Firth wanders in and out of scenes looking perpetually confused, but it becomes apparent that Ben’s selective memory gaps are hiding a darker truth. Why do the police in the sinister form of Kenneth Cranham suspect him of complicity in his wife’s death?
Even more puzzlingly, why do they also seem to suspect him of the murder of the rather anonymous sounding pop star Lauren Paris? And while we’re about it, since when did the death of an R&B singer unite the nation in a display of bereavement not seen since Princess Diana died? If Samantha Mumba kicked the bucket would the entire country grind to a standstill?
Evans handles the dislocating effects of grief very well in the early stages but it soon becomes obvious that the fractured narrative is hiding a "Big Twist" which you’ll guess an hour before it’s revealed.
Trauma has all the hallmarks of a good, solid idea for a half-hour short that has been padded far beyond its natural length. Brenda Fricker and Scots actor Tommy Flanagan turn up in pointless roles that do nothing other than extend the running time. Once you’ve guessed the secret lurking behind Richard Smith’s undercooked script, Evans’ approach becomes tiresome. It is like watching a bad magician continually misdirecting his audience so they won’t see the trick coming.
Firth is so clenched he’s positively constipated. Ben must have looked like a welcome change of pace for the actor but it looks increasingly like he simply cannot play anyone other than Colin Firth. At least he’s consistent.
Evans demonstrates he’s capable of better things by playing with nightmarish imagery. There’s an effective, jerky, blurred, spook scare lifted from Jacob’s Ladder and the escaped ants in Firth’s apartment recall the encroaching signs of mental disturbance in Polanski’s Repulsion. Those films were horror movies though, Trauma thinks rather better of itself. It is a psychological thriller. However the psychology is banal and the thrills are few and far between.
The Independent (by Anthony Quinn, Sept 17, 2004) - 1 of 5 stars
After the intricate horrors of his digital shocker My Little Eye, director Marc Evans comes a cropper with this pretentious amnesiac thriller. Colin Firth plays a man who may either have lost his wife in a road accident or else has possibly murdered a woman.
Even if you can make sense of the train wreck of a plot, you balk at the tin-eared dialogue and the unlikely presence of Mena Suvari, parachuted into the story from nowhere.
The Scotsman (by Alastair McKay, Aug 20, 2004)
Just a trick of the mind
My Little Eye marked Evans out as a director with a mastery of mood and a command of fear. He also showed an understanding of the cinema experience: the film is nowhere near as effective on DVD.
Trauma is two steps sideways. It has the same visual style, and it continues the director’s fascination with the difference between perception and reality, but it swaps narrative coherence for a series of trick mirrors. The action takes place within the mind of Ben (Colin Firth), who has survived the car crash in which his wife died and awoken from a coma to discover that the country is in mourning for Lauren Parris, a pop star, who has been found murdered in a London canal. Ben—whose mind flickers between flashback and nightmare—is wracked with guilt and confusion. Was he to blame for his wife’s death in the car crash? Was there some connection between him and the dead pop star? Who is the scary man in the snorkel parka who keeps appearing in the local market, like a Britpop version of the dwarf in the duffel coat in Don’t Look Now?
The opening scenes play around with the notion of the kind of communal grief that now attends high-profile deaths. The response to the pop star’s murder is an outpouring of vague gloominess and petrol station bouquets, placing the event as a cross between the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the murder of Jill Dando. As in My Little Eye, Evans seems to be criticising media-generated narratives. Ben observes the scenes of mass grieving on the television in his hospital ward, and wanders off in his gown, muttering "My wife’s dead".
The story unfolds according to changing perception of the central character. As Ben is suffering from a mix of amnesia and something approaching paranoid delusion, the inside of his mind is not a pleasant place to linger. We see him in therapy, angry and unable to grieve. There is talk of forbidden rooms, and everything is bathed in a cold blue light. He wanders along a derelict corridor when—boo!—a spooky stranger jumps out and says, with the vague threat of the caretaker of the abandoned gold mine in Scooby Doo: "Entrance to the old morgue".
Yes, conveniently, Ben’s house is in a half-converted hospital. His neighbour across the hall is a moon-faced girl (Mena Suvari), who introduces herself in the manner of a Gold Blend advert. The moon-faced girl then takes him to see a medium, who tells him his wife isn’t really dead. A detective (the splendid Kenneth Cranham) turns up, wondering where he was on the night of the pop star’s murder.
And so it goes. There is a nasty scene involving a spider, and several instances of the Ominous Train sound effect they use on EastEnders to signify Bad Things.
Still, Firth does a good turn, and Evans shows himself to be a dab hand with visual distortion. His vision of London is chilly, and the sense of menace swirls prettily. But, kids, would you go down in the abandoned mortuary with a man who keeps ants as pets?
Channel Four (by Daniel Etherington)
Ben (Firth) is not a happy chap. After coming out of coma, he blames himself for the death of his wife Elisa (Harris) in the accident. But his recovery process is confused by the fact that the entire nation is mourning the murder of a pop star, Lauren Parris. Ben himself is obsessing over Parris's death: he's compiling a scrapbook and has moved into a new apartment in a converted hospital near where her body was found in an east London canal. Despite being connected with the star—his wife was among her troupe of dancers—Ben also comes to the attention of the police, being interviewed by Inspector Jackson (Cranham) as a stalker and potential suspect.
Ben really is addled. He thinks he sees something suspicious going on in the basement via CCTV ("the entrance to the old morgue"), he keeps seeing a figure in a snorkel parker (who the police are looking for), and he even believes he's seen Elisa. His feelings get even more mixed up when he meets Charlotte (Suvari), his "sort-of land lady". Not only are they attracted to each other but she takes him to gatherings hosted by a supposed psychic (Fricker). He's understandably freaked when she says "There's somebody in two minds here. So much death in this mind, so much death.... Ben—Elisa hasn't passed over."
What the devil is going on?
Director Marc Evans, whose last film was the tense, innovative My Little Eye, doesn't make things easy for the viewer. His tendency toward shifting focus, almost subliminal glimpses, snippets of CCTV, and a whole gamut of tricky techniques all reflect Ben's post-traumatic disorientation, steeping the film with the protagonist's troubled sensibilities. Firth does an excellent job of providing a dishevelled focus for this intriguing little psychological thriller cum horror drama. It's also a credit to his emotive performance—which dominates the film—that you sympathise with Ben even when you feel you can't trust him.
Thematically Trauma is also interesting, though not entirely successful. The conceit of the death a pop star moving an entire nation isn't credible, partly because—despite how much people are weaned on tabloid celebrity culture these days—the notion of a British Madonna/Princess Di hybrid isn't entirely believable. It's a thoughtful comment on how we get caught up in the media's myth-making, and the displacement of emotions, but it's also a heavy-handed narrative device used to contrast the personal with the public, the real with the imagined etc.
Evans and first time screenwriter Richard Smith also have something to say about survival guilt, about the formulation of personality (Ben has also been shaped by earlier traumas), as well as the failing of the health services. Ben is not just a man recovering from a coma who's grieving his wife, he's also mentally ill and needs support as such. But it seems unavailable, bar visits to a cryptic shrink.
Melding psychological thriller elements with creepier aspects that may be supernatural, Trauma is in some ways as muddled as Ben himself. Although it has distinctions, it's also strangely familiar—especially in a scene that virtually recreates a famous sequence from Jacob's Ladder. Hitchcock and M Night Shyamalan are also definite frames of reference, amongst others.
Evans is an adept director at creating atmosphere (ably assisted by Gladiator and Hannibal cinematographer John Mathieson) and disorientation. But the thriller and horror elements cancel each other out somewhat, so the intensity of the film is ultimately compromised by its slippery nature.
Verdict: An intriguing but not entirely satisfying film, featuring an impressive turn by Colin Firth.
Empire (by Anna Smith, August 2004) - 2 out of 5 stars
My Little Eye director Evans opts for a more subtle brand of terror in this British-set psychological thriller. Ben (Colin Firth) awakes from a coma to find his wife Elisa (Naomie Harris) dead and the world obsessing over a murdered pop star. Angry that his grief is being sidelined, he becomes preoccupied with the murder and ends up a suspect, unbeknownst to his neighbour, Charlotte (Mena Suvari). Doubts creep into Ben’s mind about his grasp on reality. Is his wife really dead? Is Charlotte a figment of his imagination? These questions are compelling in theory, but fail to grip the viewer as they should. Moments of tension aren’t exploited fully and plot threads are left hanging.
Trauma boasts strong ideas, cinematography and performances (even from a dubiously-cast Firth), but a shaky story structure makes it a modest work.
BBCi (by Jamie Russell, July 8, 2004) - 4 out of 5 stars
"CHILLING TAKE ON CELEBRITY, DEATH AND DESPAIR"
Colin Firth in a gripping psychological thriller from the director of My Little Eye? Pull the other one, you're probably thinking. But the most exciting thing about Trauma is just how disturbed and disturbing the former Mr Darcy can be when he leaves his jodhpurs at home. Firth plays Ben, a bereaved husband haunted by grief in the East End of London and slowly falling in love with next-door neighbour Charlotte (Mena Suvari). If it sounds like Last Tango in Walford, think again: this is a genuinely unsettling psychodrama.
Waking in hospital from a coma, Ben discovers that his wife (Naomie Harris) has been killed in a car accident. Haunted by his memories and his guilt (he was driving), he struggles to pull his life back together as the rest of the world simultaneously mourns the death of famous pop star Lauren Paris. He's plagued by nagging questions: Who's the strange man in the hooded Parka who keeps following him? And why does a medium say his wife isn't properly dead?
Shot in compassionless icy blues and greys, Trauma is a bold psychological horror movie—far bolder than the seemingly bland presence of Firth and Suvari might suggest (one word: spiders). Swapping his breeches for a lean and haunted look, three days' stubble, and the wild eyes of a madman, Firth has never been better. And Evans—a director whose debut feature House Of America showed so much talent—proves that he's shaping into the dark prince of British horror cinema.
A broken mirror of a movie, its fractured storytelling makes for riveting viewing. Boring the camera lens into the damaged brain of his protagonist with the pinpoint accuracy of a power drill, Trauma delivers a chilling take on celebrity, death and despair. Judging by this evidence, Evans may yet make the first British horror masterpiece of the new century.
Shadows on the Wall (by Rich
Cline, June 12, 2004) - 3½ of 5 stars
There's an eerie
creepiness about this psychological thriller that really gets into your
head, thanks to extremely intriguing direction from Evans (My Little Eye) and a strong central performance by Firth.
When Ben (Firth) wakes
from a coma he only has fragmented memories of the car crash that put
him in the hospital and killed his wife (Naomie Harris). Completely
shattered, he tries to put his life back together with the help of his
pal Tommy (Flanagan) and an all-new flat with a friendly neighbour
(Suvari) and a helpful handyman (Sean Harris) lurking downstairs. Then
a psychic (Fricker) tells him his wife is alive, and in his stunned
confusion, he mixes his wife's death with the murder of a local pop
star, thinking maybe he did it.
Screen Daily (by Colin Brown,
Indeed, Trauma has more in common with Krzysztof Kieslowski’s metaphysical Three Colours: Blue, about a young woman unhinged by the accidental death of her husband and daughter, than it does a conventional chiller. There are creepy moments, for sure, and a culminating death unpleasant enough to register with fans of the macabre—particularly those who suffer from arachnophobia. But the slow-burning mood of ominous portent counts for more here than any storytelling shock and awe. Trauma trades in fear, not fright.
The anguish begins in hospital where Ben (Firth) emerges from a coma to learn that his wife (Harris) has been killed in a car accident of his own doing. Or maybe not. In his stricken condition, Ben finds it increasingly difficult to wrestle fact from fiction. Visions of his wife torture him and so too the recent death of a pop superstar that seems eerily close to home. Perhaps he killed her instead? Retreating into an altered state of mental despair, Ben seeks refuge wherever he can—an enigmatic neighbour (Suvari), a psychoanalyst, a clairvoyant (Fricker), even his collection of ants. But each of them succeed only in tormenting him further. By the end, his tenuous grip on sanity has been torn away completely and he lashes out to devastating effect.
Marketing this story, which will be released in the UK through Warner Bros, will require ingenuity. Its likeliest audience appeal lies somewhere in the space between Firth’s legion of female groupies and that narrower, predominantly male vein of puzzle addicts who loved being teased by films like Memento. Their common ground might be represented by Don’t Look Now, a seminal film that was steamy enough to be a date movie, but also artful enough to keep the most ardent suspense fans guessing. In the case of Trauma, the question is whether there is enough emotional involvement or cryptic mystery to tempt either constituency into seeing Trauma at theatres, rather than waiting to see it at home.
Those that do pay at the box office will at least be rewarded by a UK film whose visual and aural virtuosity sets it apart from the television-influenced social-realist dramas and comedies that have come to typify this country’s output. Dressed in neo-gothic garb, this is a more mythical take on contemporary London than we are used to.
Every trick in the cinematic armoury, from elliptical editing to menacing production and sound design, is deployed to create an angst-ridden canvas. But this technical tour de also comes at the expense of audience engagement. In the past, before MTV music videos and Avid digital editing suites changed the filmmaking vocabulary, directors like Don’t Look Now’s Nicolas Roeg could rely on shadows and dark motifs to unsettle viewers. But with even Hitchcockian devices now too hackneyed to truly disturb anymore, the tendency has been towards sensory assault and ever more disjointed narratives in order to keep ahead of viewer anticipation in this kinetic, post-modern age. The problem here is that not every image makes sense, even on a subliminal level; rather that unlock the door to our subconscious fears, this impressionistic barrage of incongruities ends up baffling. This is dislocation to the point of distraction.
On the positive side, Welsh filmmaker Marc Evans is nothing if not prescient. My Little Eye, his previous film that took the reality TV concept to horrific extremes, was developed before the Big Brother series had even hit British television. Trauma, his immediate follow-up to that claustrophobic cult favourite, effectively plugs into the emerging zeitgeist of dread and anxiety. Trauma was one of three unnerving Sundance psycho-dramas—along with November and The Machinist—that played tricks with memory and time to the point where fantasy and reality melds into one hallucinatory mindscape. It is not too much of a stretch to see in such films the first signs of a return to the paranoia and unease that marked cinema at the height of the Cold War in the late 1950s.
Variety (by David Rooney from Sundance, Jan 26, 2004)
Following his resourceful low-budget chiller "My Little Eye," Brit director Marc Evans revisits similar genre territory but this time stumbles with "Trauma." Visually stylish and distinguished by its hallucinatory atmosphere of dread, the psychological thriller about a coma patient who emerges into an increasingly delusional world is hampered by narrative incoherence, sluggish pacing and emotionally remote characters. Strongest shot will be as a DVD title for this first feature from Anglo-Irish production outfit Little Bird's new horror label, Ministry of Fear.
Waking up in a hospital after being in a coma for a week, Ben (Colin Firth (news)) learns the car he was driving crashed and his wife Elisa (Naomie Harris) killed. His disorientation and guilt-ridden state are further aggravated by the media frenzy gripping London after the murder of a pop star.
Ben visits the same shrink he saw following a childhood trauma and moves into a creepy former hospital. There, he becomes friendly with neighbor Charlotte (Mena Suvari (news)), whose spiritual bent gives her a view into his tortured soul.
Charlotte takes Ben to a medium (Brenda Fricker), who further destabilizes him by telling him Elisa is alive. When a cop (Ken Cranham) begins questioning Ben about the pop star killing, he becomes increasingly unable to distinguish reality from morbid fantasy.
Working with accomplished d.p. John Mathieson and editor Mags Arnold, Evans creates a darkly textured world of fragmented images and disturbing visions that recalls the charged visual atmosphere of Hong Kong thrillers like "The Eye." But Richard Smith's original screenplay fails to lay a concrete foundation in reality or provide sufficient access to the characters, resulting in an abstract, dissatisfyingly uninvolving chiller. Even when the puzzle comes together in the final reel, the pieces remain an imperfect fit.
As in so many other recent films in which stylistic flourishes take precedence over plot construction, too many factors—Ben's home in a blue-lit, other-worldly building with an abandoned morgue in the basement and seemingly no other residents aside from Charlotte; his ant farm and entomology interest—seem like arbitrarily creepy components with no logical bearing on the story beyond their visual function.
Stuck with a distancing character, Firth contributes a brooding, troubled turn that's become his stock in trade, while Suvari lacks the gravitas to make much of an impression in an enigmatic role. Pic screened at Sundance without end credits.
The Hollywood Reporter (by Duane Byrge from Sundance, Jan 23, 2004)
"Trauma" is the poor man's "Memento." It is a spiraling, flash-cut visualization of one man's meltdown following a car crash in which his wife was killed.
Starring Colin Firth as Ben, the driver who wakes up in a hospital ward to find that his beloved wife is dead, "Trauma" is a mega-reality brain tease. Memory, delusion, obsession and, of course, the trauma from the accident itself all are part of this very disturbing story. What is real and what is in the mind's eye of Ben are always in doubt. And the question eventually arises: Did he kill his wife before the accident?
Although "Trauma" is a dazzler, it's also a snoozer. Once the quick cuts and flashy cinematic flourishes subside, the story dissolves into a protracted muddle. Although we're mesmerized by director Marc Evans' visual pyrotechnics and hard-noir stylistics, it's difficult to keep up interest when we're indifferent to Ben, who emerges as an obsessive lout.
Screenwriter Richard Smith shows ample gifts, combining intrigue with the horror-of-personality genre. Yet, his character construction is overtly clinical: Ben's mental turmoil and how it connects to the death of his wife never satisfyingly congeals. Admittedly, the story is well-wired, but it nonetheless short-circuits because of the essential crudity of the characters, including dogged investigators, weird neighbors and other generic types. Not to mention bugs, which are all over the place. Such excessive imagery comes across as anthropological/psychological wanking.
Fortunately, "Trauma" recovers from its character deficiencies on the technical front. Cinematographer John Mathieson's dazzling noir scopings revive our eye even when our brain has turned off to the story. Editor Mags Arnold flexes a surgeon's precision in connecting the cinematic synapses of this hypervisual drama, while production designer Crispian Sallis shows us the character's conflicted mind-sets much more succinctly than the story does.
Compounding "Trauma's" narrative fractures, it's also hard to understand the Queen's English, especially when snarled by Firth. Supporting players are similarly bludgeoned by the writing, namely Mena Suvari as Ben's spacey neighbor and Brenda Fricker as a clairvoyant. Both come across as character pawns rather than flesh and blood— the lack of which is fatal with this "Trauma."
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