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Trauma (2004)

Directed by:

Marc Evans

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 98 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Country: United Kingdom

After crashing his car one rainswept night, artist Ben (Colin Firth) wakes from a coma, only to discover that his beloved wife Elisa (Naomie Harris) was killed in the accident. Delirious with grief for Elisa, at a time when everyone else is grieving the recent murder of pop superstar Lauren Parris, Ben moves into a new apartment built over a morgue, in an attempt to rebuild his broken memory and life. His recovery is helped somewhat by his regular sessions with a psychiatrist whom he has been seeing ever since the death of his mother during his childhood – and his friendly new neighbour Charlotte (Mena Suvari) seems to fill in the void left by Elisa’s death – but Ben’s mind continues to play tricks on him, and when Inspector Jackson (Ken Cranham) accuses him of stalking and implicates him in the slaying of Lauren Parris, Ben is forced to confront some uncomfortable questions: why does he keep seeing the dead Elisa? who keeps obliterating the paintings and photos of her in his apartment? what connects him to Lauren Parris? and is it just coincidence that Charlotte shares her name with the aunt who looked after him, and then abandoned him, as a boy?

Not to be confused with Dario Argento’s film of the same name, ‘Trauma’ is, like David Cronenberg’s Spider’ (2002), a gothic psychological thriller with a tragic twist, about a damaged man trying to get back his grip on reality in the dingier by-ways of London – and it acknowledges this debt to Cronenberg in full by prominently featuring several spiders, both fake and real, in the web of its plot. Director Marc Evans has brought from his last film, ‘My Little Eye’, an obsession with surveillance and the media. Characters seen on TV news reports enter Ben’s room moments later, Ben finds his own image lurking in the background of photos in celebrity magazines, and in one particularly unnerving episode near the film’s beginning, everyone around Ben in a busy open market suddenly freezes, revealing that he has unwittingly walked through, and been filmed in, a police reconstruction scene. All this, along with some disorienting flashbacks and jumpcuts, creates a kaleidoscopic fragmentation of reality in which the viewer feels as lost and paranoid as Ben himself.

From playing the original Darcy in the BBC’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to a modern-day Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary, as well as having principal parts in mainstream romcoms like ‘Fever Pitch’, Hope Springs and What a Girl Wants, Colin Firth is the British romantic lead par excellence, and the very presence of his name on the marquee guarantees ‘Trauma’ a broader audience than a film so bleakly nightmarish might otherwise garner. It is not, however, just for commercial reasons that this is an ingenious piece of casting, for Firth is here once again playing his typical rôle as a romantic dreamer – only one who is waking up to a far less salubrious reality – and he makes an effective transition within the film from confused lover to just plain confused. Mena Suvari, the other big-name star in ‘Trauma’, cannot quite match up to Firth’s acting abilities, but again she is cleverly cast, reprising from ‘American Beauty’ a rôle that is half projected male fantasy and half ordinary girl-next-door (literally, in the case of ‘Trauma’).

Not a film to watch if you are looking for Firth’s usual feel-good factor, but if you like atmosphere, amnesia, angst and ants (and who doesn’t?), ‘Trauma’ has it all – and as the first film from Ministry of Fear, a new horror offshoot from successful production company Little Bird, it heralds a new era of quality British gothic cinema.

It's Got: Creepy gothic sets, disorienting use of film within film, a surprisingly unhinged performance from Colin Firth, some reality-jarring twists, and a mood of tragic melancholy.

It Needs: A psychiatrist.

Alternatives:

Dont Look Now, Eraserhead, Fight Club, Spider (2002)

Summary

Superbly grim and unsettling psychological thriller in which Colin Firth at last gets to show his stubbly side.

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