It has been some time before I have seen a thriller that is so tightly plotted and torturously bared on a psychological level. To find one that all takes place in such a confined location, you would have to go back to something like Sleuth (1972) or maybe Deathtrap (1982), although the latter was more a film that was parodying the wild twists of thriller plots. Sympathy hits one from the opening scene when Steven Pritchard bursts into the motel room with Marina Shtelen at gunpoint and handcuffs her to the bed, where we gradually learn that he is a bank robber. Within moments, the tables have been turned as she snatches the key from his pocket and swallows it, only for him to momentarily leave the room and return to find that an escaped convict (Aaron Boucher) has burst in. There is a disturbing shot in the middle of this as Pritchard and Shtelen lie down to go to sleep and then the opening credits roll and, after they have finished, the shot cuts to the pillow and bedsheets covered in blood where we momentarily dont know if it is a timecut, a flash forward of what is to come or what.
It is remarkable that a film confined to a single room can ratchet up so many twists but Arik Martins script does an excellent job of doing so. The film is like a constantly shifting game of Paper Rock Scissors between the three characters as each engage in psychological power plays for an edge in control over the others. The dramatics are beautifully played like the scene where Marina Shtelen tries to seduce Aaron Boucher only for him to announce Congratulations, youve just offered yourself to a psychopath; or the nastiness of the scene where he forces the barrel of his gun into her mouth. It is also a film where nothing is what it seems and every assumption that one has made about each character as they entered the room or claims they have made about themselves are eventually overturned or exposed as a lie in some way. [PLOT SPOILERS] This does lead to a twist ending revealing that much of what has happened was a set-up of highly improbable contrivation, before a chilling final scene where Marina Shtelen takes the show over completely and lets it go out on a helluva sting.
The three cast members, all unknowns, do an excellent job. Aaron Boucher gives a strong and brutal performance, none the more so than some captivating monologues Arik Martin provides him about life in prison about how to make a shiv or weapons made from socks and cakes of soap and how the prison system countered this by making all prisoners wear flip-flops and use liquid soap. Steven Pritchard is on the lightweight side but then the character is required to be a whiny bitch for most of the film and he does make an effective surprise turnaround in the end revelations. Best of the three is Marina Shtelen, from whom one expects to hear a good many more things soon. Here she is required to cover an extraordinary range from a frightened innocent to tough, lippy sarcasm to a seductive bad girl and eventually a decidedly disturbed edge and pulls it off with stunning results.
Andrew Moorman does an admirable job of keeping the drama tight and letting the story and performances carry the film. The only time he lets style get away with him is a scene with Marina Shtelen trying to escape from the bed and the scene briefly breaks up into split screen. Its not a scene that requires split screen as a storytelling device, the only possible purpose split screen can serve is when multiple pieces of narrative are happening concurrently, which they are not here, meaning that the effect is gratuitous one.