A Perfect Getaway is form turned inside out


If you haven’t seen it before, consider checking out this psychological B-movie

By Will Ross
A Perfect Getaway does not occasion the sort of cult one might expect from a cursory overview: it is a psychological thriller B-movie about three couples on a Hawaiian hike who begin to suspect they are being targeted for murder. Its stars are best known for the Thor and Resident Evil movies; and its writer-director’s most notable prior achievement was the Riddick franchise of sci-fi action movies. One might expect a cult to develop out of adrenaline excess or a glut of memorable one-liners.

The tiny yet intensely committed contingency of Perfect Getaway devotees (mostly Toronto film critics) do not love it as a popcorn-munching candidate for the Midnight Movie cycle. They love it as a form-shaking masterpiece.

That’s not to say it’s not a rousing film. Its slowly-stoked tension and eventual explosion between the couples is amply entertaining. As the couples move along the trail to an exotic beach, suspicions between them and the audience slowly build after they find news reports of pair of murderers killing newlyweds. The meeker honeymooning yuppies Cliff (Steve Zahn, best of a sensational ensemble) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) are especially nervous.

But after the film slowly burns through its first hour, the story explodes. A hyper-extended flashback, complete change of tone, and total reshuffling of both the audience’s and character’s allegiances send the film careening off the rails. The important thing is not so much the twist itself — it can be guessed, in broad strokes, well before it happens — but the character motivations behind it.

See, A Perfect Getaway is really about movies, and our reasons for consuming, trusting and escaping to movie narratives. It deliberately shatters its own style and character psychology, and flouts the conventions and rules of screenwriting to comment on the fickle and creepy wish-fulfillment of film spectatorship. It even manages to have its cake and eat it too: the violent, pounding climax plays not as a sarcastic parody of action or horror movies, but as a genuinely gripping thrill-ride.

Only one character in the film is in constant mastery of the narrative his life takes; in such control of his metaphysical state that he feels he controls the terms of his existence (and in one beachside freeze-frame, it’s suggested that perhaps he really can.) When one considers that each segment of the film is completely different from each of the others, and the multitude of possible realities — is the ending the logical conclusion of the story, or how one of the characters wish it would conclude? — the number of narratives one can perceive in a single viewing rapidly multiplies.

If that seems terribly cerebral, more like a structural tease than the “gripping thrill-ride” I mentioned . . . well, need those things be mutually exclusive? Hell, are they even that different in the first place? The whole pleasure of the “twist” is that it forces us to review a perspective that was right in front of us, but that we missed. Teasing apart the implications of A Perfect Getaway’s central revelation is the fun of it, and all the better to do it during such ball-bustingly original and entertaining cinema.