A Perfect Getaway (2009) dir. David Twohy
Starring: Steve Zahn, Mila Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant, Kiele Sanchez
By Alan Bacchus
There’s much to admire and much to groan about A Perfect Getaway, David Twohy’s vacation thriller, which at first glance would appear to be throwaway genre pic, but its decent receipts and tempered praise suggested more. On one hand, it’s a smart genre-aware thriller which has the ability to genuinely surprise and shock us, on the other, a transparent exercise in cinematic reverse engineering and thus ultimately the empty throwaway picture we expected.
By the way... If you haven’t seen the film, best not even read further, because some major plotting and SPOILERS needs to be discussed in order to analyse this picture.
Now back to the film... when I mean ‘reverse engineering’, I mean the whole purpose of this film’s existence is its third act twist, which either comes as a total and thus thoroughly satisfactory surprise, or as an exercise in futility to astute audiences who catch on early.
Twohy, a veteran writer/director of high concept but unmemorable films like ‘Pitch Black’, 'The Chronicles of Riddick', and ‘The Arrival’, is clever in setting it all up. First, the casting of Steve Zahn and Timothy Olyphant. Zahn, the highly recognizable character actor known for his affably goofy and geeky roles, versus the menacing and brooding presence of Olyphant set us up for a classic confrontation of good and evil.
Early on, Twohy establishes the honeymooning Cliff and Cydney (Zahn and Jovovich), are a couple of naive vacationers in Hawaii throwing around money, talking loudly and thus making themselves a target for a serial killing couple that has been stalking the islands.
Cliff and Cydney meet Nick and Gina (Olyphant and Sanchez), Nick being a highly nosey and overly friendly hiker with large eyes that never seem to blink. He’s so obviously the bad guy, right? Not necessarily. Twohy teases us with a number of potential baddies. There’s another wandering couple, a guy with nasty looking mouton-chops, tattoos and chiselled hard body who speaks in raspy tones. He’s seems pretty evil too. We also see a local moustache-twirling Hawaiian dude who coyly watches Cliff taking out his wad of cash from his wallet to pay for his hiking permits. He’s a potential threat too. So we three potential baddies, with Twohy hoping our attention is distracted by oscillating between these three red herrings.
Back to the casting... Hiring Zahn and embellishing his meek persona, nervous anxiety and dressing him in nerdy blackrimmed glassed enhances this distraction. At the same time, Twohy’s lack of subtlety with these base characterizations might also have smarter audiences think twice about what actually is going on. Eventually it’s revealed that Zahn and Cydney are the mysterious serial killers, a twist, which I caught on late in the movie, and thus didn’t get the full shock value intended by the director.
Under Twohy’s ‘either/or’ treatment of the film – that is, either you guess the ending or you don’t – the picture clearly works for those who don’t guess the ending and doesn’t for those who do. Arguably it didn’t have to be this way. In the final act, after the big reveal Twohy’s direction takes a sudden turn for some overly stylized and laughable action sequences. The lengthy flashbacks run on too long, and betray the cleverness of Twohy’s set-up, essentially dumbing the picture down and telling the audience how he tricked us. The violence is also ramped up for some gore, which is awkward and doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the picture.
And so, I have to sit on the fence on this one, leaning neither for nor against. Twohy’s mix of genre-savvy cleverness and self-awareness is liberating, but his blockhead inconsistent direction betrays his own writing.