AKA Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey.
Movies generally have to have a lot of character and some strong underlying themes to pull off a story if they want to include things like kidnap and torture as major elements. Without something extra it can quickly become gratuitous and eventually just dull and mean spirited. So rather than just saying this is a home invasion movie with a fair amount of brutal violence and cruelty, I can note that it does at least have some bigger ideas in play, whether they’re things like domestic abuse or dealing with grief. But how well these work is debatable with the script sticking closely to expected genre elements. There are still plenty of moments where victims trying to get along with their sinister captors before they try escape attempts involving household objects. But while some of the ideas in play are interesting, it never quite fleshes out the more interesting points to be more than the sum of its parts.
Alison (Megan Maczko) is in the middle of a fairly aggressive bedroom session with her husband Tom (Matt Barber) when an unexpected visitor tries to join in with them. How he got their address and their front door key isn’t clear, but his intentions are quickly apparently. The bag he’s carrying contains a variety of everyday items; ropes, pliers, wire cutters – everything you need for a weekend away. And he’s certainly got big plans for the following Saturday and Sunday. Their surprise guest Aaron (Edward Akrout) is a generally unpleasant, but typically charming sort of antagonist. He’s full of ideas about how a loving couple should be and he’s always ready with a spot of advise or a useful quote. Of course this level of sophistication is sharply contrasted with his interest in bodily harm. He wants to step into the role of a dominant husband, and soon the couple are trapped in their own home as he plans out the weekend schedule.
Right away the torture and violence is brought into focus, and while Alison is trapped in an elaborate set of knots, Tom is left in the bathtub where he meets the brunt of the nastiness Aaron has in store. There’s no suspense or intrigue used to introduce these characters, and most of the major plot developments are sign posted very early on which drains a lot of the mystery. Tom has an unknown woman texting his phone while this is going on, and Aaron immediately finds evidence in the house of the difficult relationship the couple have. Conveniently articles of clothing and BDSM paraphernalia are discovered in the first places he looks, and videos of role playing acts that don’t quite work out are the first thing that plays on their camera.
With so much information given up in the first act there’s a general lack of impact when details are uncovered later on. Aaron is certainly a nasty piece of work, but when the sympathy for one of his victims has been lost at such an early stage it results in a narrative which feels very predictable. The twisted games he plays with Alison begin to feel like part of a bigger domestic problem complete with hints at a lost daughter and suspicions that the helper Tom hired for his job is more than just a writing assistant.
There are of course plenty of standard thriller moments, and while it’s puzzling why Alison doesn’t make a bigger attempt to escape at the start when her bonds are uncut, she does eventually get around to trying the old drugged wine trick from Misery. However the characters are far less engaging than in Stephen King’s story. Aaron has some pretty grotesque habits while always maintaining a certain kind of educated charm, but he doesn’t really have any development as things progress. It’s never surprising that he can cook and he can dance and he knows about foreign cultures. The eventual twists and turns in the story give Alison more to do, but while the performances are generally solid they don’t provide anything memorable or shocking.
In terms of gruesome thrill power it does offer a few moments that are difficult to watch, and they don’t shy away from the sort of antics you’d expect from a story like this. It’s often bleak, though it does pepper the storyline with and handful of darkly horrible moments that could be considered humorous. It’s all done with a fairly straightforward sense of direction, although there are some visual flourishes which give it a kind of stylish appeal. The dripping water torture of bathroom taps is intercut with extreme close ups of tea being, providing some moments of aesthetic horror beyond all the blood and broken glass.
Overall there are some interesting ideas going on, but it feels as if they’re second fiddle to broader tropes. Aaron is too predictably charming while the central marriage has too many obvious cracks in the surface. His requests for compliance and trust suggest a more nuanced series of events that are at odds with the kind of gritty and over done acts of barbarity that take up most of the running time. With a greater focus on character depth and the problematic results of couples under stress it could have been more effective, but it instead relies mostly on bloodshed. There are moments that provide food for thought whether it’s themes of domestic servitude or the struggle for will power in difficult situations. But you may find the end results are fairly unsatisfying when it all comes to a head in the overblown climax.