Longterm readers of Hickey's House of Horrors may well remember my coverage of Brit chiller, The Cutting Room, back in May 2015. I imagine quite of few of you will in fact, as that review is my second most popular post here of all time!
So when the talented director of that film, Warren Dudley, asked if I'd like to take a look at his latest movie, Cage, which reunited him with Cutting Room star Lucy-Jane Quinlan, I was very quick to agree!
More of a psychological thriller than an out-and-out horror flick, would Cage build on the tremendous potential on display in The Cutting Room? Or would it leave me wanting to Dudley behind bars?
Dir: Warren Dudley
Stars: Lucy-Jane Quinlan, Patrick Bergin, Jake Unsworth, Sharon Drain, Andy Costello
SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here, but continue at your own risk...
Gracie (Quinlan) is a down on her luck mother, desperate to regain custody of her child. With little in the way of income, Gracie has taken a job on a chat line to raise funds.
While this pays the bills, it isn't enough to help in her legal battle.
All seems lost, until one of her clients (Bergin) offers to pay her handsomely for a special, 'one-night only' personal visit. At her wits' end, Gracie reluctantly travels to the meeting point... only to later wake up trapped in a cage in a large industrial building. With only her phone for company (albeit with the warning that any attempt to notify the authorities to her predicament will result in severe punishment), Gracie is chained and incarcerated, without a clue as to location.
As her mother (Drain) and worried boyfriend Eddy (Unsworth) try to work out where she is, Gracie finds herself at the mercy of the whims of her abductor...
THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): With just a single character onscreen, in what is essentially a single setting, Cage is a daring film. With what could be perceived as 'limited' scope, it would be very easy for an audience to lose patience and for attentions to drift if the film were to falter or stumble.
Thankfully, Dudley is more than up to the task. His story unfolds slowly and steadily, carefully deep-feeding the audience with its reveals and taking its time. That's not to say that it is dull, instead each revelation is given proper time to breathe and for the audience to process and feel its impact.
There are quiet moments in the film that have such emotional weight they hit far harder than any flashy big budget action sequences. I'll try to avoid spoiling them here (doing so really would rob the viewer of a lot of the enjoyment to be taken from the movie), but suffice to say one major reveal that was cleverly foreshadowed throughout the preceding scenes hits with a real gut-punch.
Of course, this story more than any other is VERY heavily reliant on its star delivering the goods. As the only face we see, Quinlan is asked to shoulder a massive responsibility to provide a compelling performance.
In my review of The Cutting Room, I wrote: She is quite the talent, handling some charged and challenging scenes with aplomb. She is definitely one to watch!
It seems that my words have been proven right. Quinlan is excellent in Cage, giving her character a natural likability and emoting impressively throughout the heavier scenes — no easy task when you remember that she has no other actor to hand with whom to bounce her performance off. She gives Gracie a flawed vulnerability, imbuing her with the quiet desperation that is so important to understanding some of the decidedly reckless acts she commits, and more importantly, she does a great job of getting the viewer to actually care what happens to her.
What's more, she even manages a pretty damn good American accent throughout the film too!
The voice talent also delivers the goods admirably, especially Drain's increasingly frantic mother and the cold, calculating kidnapper voiced by recognisable Hollywood talent, Bergin.
Drain provides emotional stimulus for Gracie's character, adding a more sympathetic, human counterpart for our lead to interact with. Voice acting is difficult to get right, often sounding somewhat stilted, but that's no problem here.
The impressive Unsworth is also very good, and gets the opportunity to deliver quite a range of emotions, a task with which he is more than up to the job.
Back to Bergin, we are given the villain of our movie, a character who is mysterious and clearly unhinged, even if he is able to remain deceptively calm and even charming. Exactly what this man's motives are is one of the puzzles of Dudley's clever puzzle box of a script, and Bergin is able to carry that across in subtle intonation and flawless timing. This is a talented, experienced actor and he shows that in spades with such simple but exceptionally smart delivery.
This focus on dialogue may make it sound like Cage is a static or listless visual spectacle. I'm pleased to say this is not the case.
Clever editing and camerawork ensure that the movie never feels stagnant, keeping the viewer's attention pinned to the screen. Dudley proved an accomplished filmmaker with The Cutting Room, but he was aided somewhat by the Found Footage style of that movie, a device that restricts ambition for the sake of authenticity. He has no such constraints here and, I'm very pleased to say, he more than matches the potential hinted at with his previous effort. Once again, Warren Dudley proves to be a director to watch out for.
THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Perhaps the most important point to stress is that Cage is very much a psychological thriller, not an out-and-out horror movie, per se. If you're expecting a substantial bodycount and gallons of gore, this slower, more intimate and personal story may not be for you.
Of course, one of the issues of any movie that presents you with a hypothetical conundrum (a 'what-if-that-happened-to-me?' scenario) is that it encourages you to put yourself in the lead's shoes and to formulate your own escape plan. It also encourages you to forensically nitpick that same lead's own efforts to free herself and, in Cage, there are a couple of moments when Gracie's behaviour may extract some weary sighs and eye-rolls. Very early on she starts to work her way through the potential padlock combinations on the chain that keeps her bound to the bed, but this is something she then regularly abandons, before coming back to it intermittently. As pretty much the ONLY way she could hope to free herself, this does beggar belief somewhat. I suppose this can be written away by the fact that Gracie, a woman who is already unravelling under the pressures and stresses of her life, is not thinking clearly. She has been abducted and has a number of fears relating to events on the outside of the cage, so perhaps she is struggling with rational thought? It's a strong enough reason to explain some of her less intelligent decisions, so perhaps we should just roll with that.
Furthermore, the titular cage itself is not as sturdy a structure as I imagine was envisioned during the writing of the movie. Sure, it's a decent size, but the bars do appear pretty breakable. Perhaps this is just a result of budget constraints, and I do need to remember that young Ms Quinlan is certainly not a 6ft 3, 15-stone lump like this humble reviewer, so she'd certainly struggle more to escape!
Back to those budget constraints. It's worth mentioning that Cage is clearly a lower budget movie than some of the big, shiny crowd-pleasers you're going to see at your local cinema. Dudley has very cleverly stretched his budget as far as it will go, utilising a stripped back cast and set to mask any shortfalls, but if you're more used to the likes of Jason Blumhouse's shiny horror flicks or glossy Hollywood thrillers, you may need to lower your expectations somewhat.
THE VERDICT: Cage is not a flawless thriller, but it is a very, very good one. Some minor grumbles aside, the intelligent plotting, skilled direction and a stand-out performance from a talented young lead make it a movie that is more than worth your time.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Cage is that it actually managed to raise the already high levels of esteem with which I already regarded its director and its star. I do hope these two continue to collaborate, because I cannot wait to see what they do next!
Cage is available to buy on DVD at Amazon here.
You can check out the movie's official Facebook page here
Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.