Thursday 9 November 2023

[Film Review] Screwdriver - Psychological Thriller with A Twist

Writer/Director: Cairo SmithStars: AnnaClaire Hicks, Charlie Farrell, Milly Sanders

With her life turned upside down by divorce, thirty-three-year-old Emily leaves her adopted Nebraska behind, returning to California with nothing but a suitcase in hand. She seeks refuge in the home of an old high school friend Robert, and his pharmacologist wife Melissa. The childless couple welcomes Emily into their lives, but their hospitality soon takes a dark and sinister turn.

If you’re asking why the synopsis skimps on the details there’s a good reason: this is a film where the less you know going in, the better, and with more of an impact on the story as the narrative unfolds. Cairo Smith’s feature film debut puts the viewer smack bang in the middle so that they follow the events from Emily’s point of view. She doesn’t understand what’s happening to her and neither does the audience, ramping up the suspense dial all the way to 11. The viewer can’t help but get caught up in the unfolding madness that ensues, and is one of the films key pillars. The others are its three main players stuck in a single location, with anything external mostly referenced - a film that has the look and feel of a stage play. The strongest pillar is the performances of the three leads, and had they been anything other than multifaceted, visceral and powerful, this could’ve crumbled. 

Thankfully it didn't, and what we have  is a film packed with incredible performances that keeps viewer attention hooked. Charley Farrell’s Robert, a psychotherapist, is a pleasant and inviting individual and Farrell's Portrayal has all the hallmarks of a younger Christian Bale that is more Patrick Bateman then Bruce Wayne. He acts like your best friend with pleasant platitudes and soothing smiles yet harbours a darker side which reveals itself as the film progresses. He is the calm presence in contrast to his pharmacologist wife Melissa, whose neurotic obsession with making everything perfect adds an unstable chaos to the dynamic from her neurotic overreaction  at having served chicken to Emily a vegetarian to her sensual and awkward insistence on rubbing her shoulders. In the middle of this surreal couple who by now obviously have ulterior motives, is the dejected Emily. 

Feeling lost having been thrown into an uncertain future thanks to her divorce, Emily’s susceptibility sees her fall into Robert and Melissa’s web of manipulation. Their efforts shake Emily’s perception, and faith gradually turns against everything, effectively making her a prisoner of her own mind as well as the couple’s home. Emily’s gradual descent into the chasm of her own mind fuelled by manipulation and paranoia. AnnaClaire Hicks’ performance is by far the most multi-layered and with the viewer locked into her point of view, she pulls them into the every spiralling decent of her breakdown as Melissa and Robert manipulate her mind in paranoid fuelled fear of everything she ones trusted.

The key to Cairo Smith’s psychological drama is its subliminal subtlety. At times you are left wondering why the film is called ‘Screwdriver’ and there are many references to this, the magazine on the coffee table for example. One is left to interpret the meaning of the film’s title. Perhaps it references the increasing tension of a screw as it is twisted and tightened deeper into the wood until it starts to crack, leaving the structure increasingly weakened. Are Melissa and Robert the screwdrivers? Smith leaves the answer to the audience, who by now are dizzy from a ride packed with numerous twists and turns that everyone is determined to see till the end. 

‘Screwdriver’ is a tense, claustrophobic character study of psychological manipulation, an uncomfortable journey of Emily's inevitable breakdown at the hands of the cult-like Robert and Melissa. It’s a story that has you hooked from the beginning carried by the performances of the cast with AnnaClaire HIcks at its visceral epicentre, Writer and director Cairo Smith makes a very impressive debut with a tension packed tale that is a masterclass in delivering a taut psychological drama. Far from being a Saturday night popcorn flick, ‘Screwdriver’ is a film that demands your undivided attention, a demand that fans of this fare should submit to, preferably with no interruptions. 

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