The Man in the Trunk

24 Oct

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Man in the Trunk” premiered at the Offshoot Film Festival in Fayetteville, Arkansas this past weekend. This is an early review.

This is the third time this year that I’m doing this in a review. After reviewing Ti West’s “The Sacrament” and Alex Johnson’s “Two Step,” two unpredictable thrillers I couldn’t say much about (lest I give away surprises, taking away the suspense they had to offer), from earlier this year, here comes Marc Hampson’s “The Man in the Trunk,” another terrific thriller of which I can only talk about the setup and not much else. I hate to do this again, but you’ll probably thank me later.

The film, directed by Hampson and co-written by Aaron Fairley, reminded me of a more modern Hitchcockian way of storytelling, as it gives a setup, raises tension from there, and then delivers a plot-twist midway through, creating even more tension as the film continues. The setup goes like this: it’s Christmastime, and Andrew Tucker (Ace Marrero) is looking forward to a romantic night with his wife. But their foreplay is interrupted by an old friend, Steven Winter (very well-played by Erik Bogh), whom Andrew hasn’t seen in years. They catch up and have a couple smiles and laughs before Steven reveals he came to ask Andrew for help. Steven is a nervous, awkward type, so Andrew finds it difficult to say no to a cry for help, even though Steven won’t say right away what the situation is.

Going by the title, you can probably get some idea of Steven’s situation. I won’t give it away here, though that’s not the film’s biggest reveal. Midway through the film, something unexpected happens in the story, and from there, the film turns into a forceful thriller. It does so in such an effective way, by giving us a nice, long, quiet moment (done in one great continuous shot) before something horrific happens. Normally in thrillers and horror films, that’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché that worked so well in “The Man in the Trunk” because at that point (which is about 30 minutes in), I couldn’t begin to predict how the rest of the film would play out; thus I didn’t predict that shocking story turn and it took me by surprise. And from that point on (again, without revealing anything), all hell breaks loose, lives are at stake, and it’s a race to safety. It’s complicated, but that’s one of the reasons why “The Man in the Trunk” works. It’s a scary, unpredictable, suspenseful film that kept me guessing as well as unnerved. Other things that work for the film are the cinematography and the acting, which give the film a more realistic feel, making its settings and problems even more unsettling.

Something I probably could’ve done without is the epilogue. Without giving it away, it provides answers (albeit vague ones) to certain questions that may have been best left to the imagination. While I give Hampson and Fairley credit for not having everything spelled out for the audience by providing a detailed back-story (such as the therapist’s reasoning in “Psycho”), it was a little disappointing for a film that avoided taking the easy way out (again, without giving it away). However, I will let it slide because the film still kept its tone with this resolution.

Even so, “The Man in the Trunk” is a tense, effective independent thriller that I hope gets enough attention in its festival run for distribution, because I really think it’s that good. I’m sorry I couldn’t say much about it, but as I said before, you’ll probably thank me later. And I must admit: the night I saw this film at the Offshoot Film Festival, as I was about to leave for home, I checked the backseat to make sure no one was waiting to stab me when I got in my car. That’s how much the film worked for me.

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