The first time I can remember seeing the name David Twohy, and wanting to remember it, was with the 1996 film The Arrival. That was a solid science fiction film that had a level of intelligence that often seems absent in alien invasion films. They usually fall more along the lines of Independence Day (which I liked, but it is not a terribly good movie).
Four years later Twohy would write and direct the science fiction thriller Pitch Black, once again proving he could do a lot with a little, a fact proved once more in 2002 with the underwater ghost story Below. He returned to the Pitch Black universe in 2004 with Chronicles of Riddick, which, while decent, exposed him; although he had a lot of toys in this toolbox, the resulting film was somewhat lacking.
Now, five years later, David Twohy is back in the director's chair with a thriller that feels somewhat conventional, yet is terribly effective and shows that he is at his best when working in a more minimalist style.
I went into A Perfect Getaway with low expectations. The movie looked rather conventional and I was sure it would fast turn into a slog. As it started I hoped it would outdo my expectations; then Twohy's name appeared on the screen and my spirits lifted. No, I would not call Twohy a cinematic visionary nor is he likely to revolutionize the art, but there is something to be said for his ability to focus and deliver a solid experience that goes against expectations and does so with very little.
At its core, A Perfect Getaway is traditional thriller. You know, the sort of film where you have the good guys, the bad guys, and the plot flies a rather straight line to the finish. Within the first ten minutes, you will think you know where it is going, and you may actually be right. The key is to pay attention and find out if you were right. As I watched, I had an idea of who the bad guy was, but then something else happens and I change my mind, then it happens again and I am suspecting someone else, before long I am back to where I started. This thriller had me simultaneously running in circles and treading water.
It begins with the introduction of Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich), a newly married couple honeymooning on a Hawaiian island famous for its remote trails and gorgeous isolated beaches. We first see clips of the wedding video, friends and family wishing them well on their future together, then we follow them as they arrive on the remote island after a stop in Oahu. They are in a rented Jeep, having a blast and cruising along the road headed for a popular trail route. Along the way they meet Kale (Chris Hemsworth) and Cleo (Marley Shelton), a rather seedy looking couple looking for a ride. Cliff and Cyd are not exactly willing to give them a ride, a feeling sensed by Kale, who forces Cleo out of the car.
Our couple moves on and once they hit the trail they meet Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez). It is right about this time that they learn that a newly married couple, on their honeymoon, was murdered back in Oahu with the culprits believed to be running off into the wilderness. Was it Kale and Cleo? Is it Nick and Gina? Is it possible that Cliff and Cyd are traveling with the killers? I mean, Kale may have had that creepy loner with a touch of violence vibe, but Nick is a highly trained soldier who suffered some brain trauma and does not seem to be all there.
The screenplay leads you down a number of different paths. It moves slowly, deliberately, allowing you time to consider a variety of possibilities. Some of them would be too easy, others appear like cheats. Somewhere in between the lies and the cheats is the truth. The pacing allows a delicious amount of uneasiness to enter the equation. It is all about atmosphere, it lets paranoia prey on logic. Truth is obscured in a cloud of questions. No matter how hard you look, the answers will not always be apparent.
Credit for David Twohy. His script gives us interesting characters, thrills, and mystery that actually works. It works on a level that carries right through the revelation and on through to the final moments. There is a hint of depth that I did not expect. I will not give it away, but it does lead to an interesting decision in those closing moments. Then there is the direction — the pace is kept nice and even, involving, while also providing time for the possibilities to dawn on the viewer. I never felt rushed as the story fell into place.
On top of the solid writing and direction, the acting is also rather effective. It was nice seeing Steve Zahn in a role other than the comedic buddy. He handles himself well here. Milla Jovovich does a fine job as well; she is not a great actress, but always turns in decent work. The supporting cast is also solid, with Timothy Olyphant possibly being the most entertaining of the bunch.
Bottom line. This is not a great film, and I suspect many will not like it, but for my money it is finely crafted thriller with interesting twists and characters. It pays off in fine fashion, and is just a very solid experience. Set your expectations aside and enjoy the ride.