Hooked (2008) dir. Adrian Sitaru
Starring: Adrian Titieni, Ioana Flora, Maria Dinulescu
Everything coming out of Romania these days commands attention. Romanian director Adrian Sitaru’s debut feature which featured a gorgeous and buxom gal as it’s still image in the TIFF guidebook (see above) commanded my attention. “Hooked” is a deceptively creepy psychothriller reminiscent of early Roman Polanski and Michael Haneke and one of the pleasant unexpected surprises of the Festival.
A couple (Mihai and Sweetie) drive off for a peaceful picnic in the country. In the car ride up their bickering hints at deep-rooted troubles in the relationship. Suddenly Sweetie, the driver, hits a prostitute with her car. The woman is lifeless and assumed dead. After a lengthy debate the couple decide to bury the body instead of facing the criminal charges. But to their relief, before burial, the woman wakes up from unconsciousness.
The woman (who we now know as Ana) can’t remember the incident and so Mihai and Sweetie play dumb and keep quiet about the truth. Ana is soon ingratiated by the couple into their picnic. But as their conversations become more personal Ana’s motivations are revealed to be devious and potentially dangerous.
“Hooked” is a difficult film to penetrate. Sitaru shoots the film with what appears to be the crappiest video camera available. And it’s peculiarly amateurish style uses exclusively POV shots of the characters. As a result the camera whips and swishes around with the technical skill on the level of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Many people walked out of the theatre before the first act turn. Those who stayed were rewarded.
Once Ana enters the picture we forget about the style and get wrapped up in Sitaru’s fascinating dialogue. The more we get to know Ana the creepier the film becomes. Is Ana a psychopath in disguise preying on the innocence of Mihai and Sweetie? Or is she sincere in her concern for their relationship?
For the rest of the film I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and launch it into predictable genre territory, or at the very least compete with Michael Haneke and shock us with sudden violence.
“Hooked” never goes there. Instead Sitaru is surprisingly optimistic about the relationship of his characters. I saw Ana as the Mephistopheles character, like the Joker in “The Dark Knight” who chooses to mess with Mihai’s and Sweetie’s heads because she can. But her coy games are not completely without cause. Sweetie appears to have started the battle, and as the film progresses we deduce that Ana’s game is an act of revenge. Or is it?
The finale gave me a quiet smirk and nod of appreciation for satisfying me in a simple way I never expected. Beneath the rough amateurish technical exterior is a major filmmaking talent – a reminder of the ‘keep it simple stupid’ technical methods of those Dogma filmmakers in the 1990’s. Enjoy.