For this blog entry on Triangle (2009), I shall focus on two aspects of the film: the rules set by the film’s internal universe and how it plays with (or subverts) horror film expectations.
For a start, here’s a quick review on the film. Triangle is a clever horror piece, able to world-build each step of the way without sacrificing the visceral portent it wants to make the viewer vicariously experience. The beginning of the film is particularly wonky but as the film goes on, Triangle was able to make the film coherent and cohesive. The visuals were able to also subtly reference the film’s internal universe subtly, with the flock of dead seagulls still haunting me at this moment. Furthermore, the twists, contrived as they may initially seem, do serve a purpose to the story and they contribute to the world-building.
Now, let me talk about the rules set by the film. Initially, the film starts on a straightforward narrative. The main characters are stranded in a boat in the middle of the sea and saved by an imposing “ghost ship”; naturally, the horror builds up, with each character dying and Jess, the “final girl” living. However, the expected horror film denouement happens quite early in the film and thus, an unexpected twist happens: Jess sees another version of her and her colleagues in another boat arriving at the “ghost ship”.
It then becomes clear that the characters, most especially Jess, are stuck on a time loop. They are doomed to repeat the same event, with virtually no escape; it’s as if it’s “Groundhog Day” with a higher body count. As the film progresses, Jess assumes another rule: If she kills all her colleagues, then she is free of the loop. However, even when she eventually got off the sea and back home, the loop still remains unbroken. Eventually, the loop’s consequences are shown to be more far-reaching than Jess realizes: The entire film’s events is part of the loop.
Jess’ reaction to the time loop calls to mind Todorov’s commentary on the fantastic. Triangle presupposes a time loop, a supernatural event which cannot be accounted for in the natural, “real” world. With the film, this fantastic event is an integral part of reality, as seen by the multiple dead bodies of Sally; the loops add up instead of resetting. This cannot be “uncanny” since Jess neither wakes up from a dream nor realizes her insanity. This also cannot be “marvelous” since Jess still attempts to fight the fantastic as the film closes. (Todorov, 1975)
The last statement, in which Jess attempts to fight the fantastic and end the loop, brings to mind the “weird tale” in which horror gets its roots. In the “weird tale”, the character and the reader presuppose an open-ended universe; there is an escape in the end. The ordeals experienced by the characters are incredibly strange and will make the character think, “Why me? Why do I experience this?” Eventually, the reader realizes that the character is stuck on that universe, that the character’s fate is sealed. (Ligotti, 1994)
It is here that Triangle transcends the expectations of the horror film. Normally, we’d expect the jump scares and the gory deaths but Triangle manages to subvert that and dig deeper. The jump scares happen only near the start and the deaths are not overtly bloody and glossed-upon. Instead, the film taps on the more primal spirit of the weird tales and on a much more harrowing fear: That there is no escape. In Triangle, Jess attempts to escape the time loop but fails. She may still have the agency to decide her next action but in trying to actively escape the time loop, she still ends up staying there. Vicariously, the viewer experiences this feeling of no escape with each reveal of the time loop and the fact that the viewer is just on his seat, helpless to change anything happening in the film.
As stated earlier, the characters in the film face death at the hands of a killer, wearing a mask akin to famous “slashers” in horror cinema. However, it is soon discovered that the killer is Jess, due to her misinterpretation of the time loop. Jess is posed here as the “final girl” and this presents an interesting twist on horror conventions: The “final girl” is the “slasher”. And as with the nature of the time loop, “Triangle” ends where horror films barely go: All main characters are alive in the denouement, albeit with fates worse than death.
At first glance, Triangle may just seem to be a gimmicky horror film, adding a time loop element to the formula. But upon closer viewing, Triangle proves to be much more, as it manages to tap into deeper primal fears while adding a modern spin to the “weird tale”.
Ligotti, Thomas. “In the Night, In the Dark: A Note on the Appreciation of Weird Fiction.” Noctuary, by Ligotti, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1994.
Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Cornell University Press, 1975.