Triangle (2009): A Doomed Destiny

Warning: This entry contains spoilers.

Christopher Smith’s Triangle opens up with a crying Jess (Melissa George) tightly hugging and comforting her autistic son, Tommy (Joshua McIvor), who seems to be in a state of shock. Jess starts cleaning up the house and packing up her belongings before she drives off to the harbor to meet her friend, Greg (Michael Dorman) for a day of yachting on the “Triangle,” along with a couple of other people – Victor (Liam Hemsworth), Downey (Henry Nixon), Sally (Rachael Carpani), and Heather (Emma Lung). Despite Jess’ small qualms about an uneasy feeling that she can’t shake, everything goes by smoothly. That is, until a storm appears and capsizes their yacht. After some time, they see a ship come to their rescue, and thus climb aboard the enormous vessel, the “Aeolus.” Everyone is surprised to see that the ship was void of any crew members or passengers. Except, they aren’t really alone. Soon after, Jess is horrified to see that her friends are being killed one by one by someone else on the ship, and she learns that only she has the capacity to save them from their fate.

The film uses a combination of various aspects and elements from the history of the horror genre. It starts off as a slasher film, where our lucky band of characters get picked off one by one, until the only one left standing is the “Final Girl”1 in the end; but it also utilizes supernatural elements, making the film verge on science fiction, that throws the audience in for a surprise. In the 1980s, there was the emergence of body horror as part of the development of horror films throughout history. This is where the villain is an internal force, and thus “challenges the distinction between self and other.”2 From the start of the film, we can see that our heroine is clearly troubled by a certain unspecified internal struggle that confuses both us and her. We then find out that the murderer on the ship who is killing Jess’ friends is none other than Jess herself. Or more specifically (and confusingly), an earlier version of herself. Through this tangled web, we discover slowly that Jess is stuck in a never-ending cycle, and the only way she can stop the loop, get off the ship, and go back home to her son, is to kill her friends.

The movie is strife with foreshadowing, even right from the beginning, where we see a lopsided toy boat floating on an inflated pool, and Jess’ tarnished clothes from cleaning the spilled paint on the floor. It was foretelling of the events that were soon to happen in the film. There are also recurring imageries of mirrors and seagulls, with slowly evolving states once going deeper into the movie. There were numerous scenes where Jess was in the same shot as a mirror, however she never directly looked into them. When Jess went into the kitchen to hide from the killer, there was a close-up shot of her hiding behind a counter, and it was only her and her own reflection that could be seen within the frame. It’s a jarring scene to think about after having seen the whole film and knowing the twists that the movie has. Near the end, when Jess takes a moment to directly look at her reflection in the mirror on the lower deck of the ship, it can clearly be seen that the mirror itself is cracked and broken, which could be taken as a reflection on how she viewed herself after all the events that had transpired on the ship and what she had to do to survive.

The seagulls could also represent the various versions of Jess within the film. In the beginning, we see a seagull flying calmly over the serene sky; another following the Triangle; then things turn for the worst, where we next see a flock of seagulls gnawing on Downey’s body; and in the end, a seagull rams onto Jess’ windshield and dies. The evolution of the seagull imagery fits in with internal changes within Jess as she comes into many realizations. At first, Jess is simply an observer and follower, a servant who simply reacts to the events that are happening on the ship. But quickly afterwards, she takes it upon herself to become an agent and readily accepts her role as a killer, determined not to let anything stand between her seeing her son again.

The movie constantly kept surprising me. Even when I thought I was following the movie quite well and had understood everything that was happening, Jess’ world and the elements in it still surprised me even until the very end. Jess, the woman we were sympathetic and cheering for during majority of the film, all while she was battling ordeals on the ship, turns out to have been an abusive mother. It was certainly a shock and put things in a new perspective for me. The ending, with Jess trying to make up for her past actions with her son by trying to escape her fate of doom, only resulted in the devastating event of her killing herself and her son.

The film left me with a lot of questions. How did the cycle begin? What caused it? Why did whatever force at work target Jess and keep only her in the never-ending loop? Will she ever find a way out of the loop while keeping her son safe? If I were to take the movie simply as it is, at its face value, then these questions would be left unanswered indefinitely. However, we can take a different approach and treat the film as something that has a lot of metaphors and deeper meanings, and be open to the idea that the film is actually one about the afterlife. Aside from the constant white motifs (i.e. characters’ clothing and the ship’s exterior), the name of the ship itself, Aeolus, is very telling and serves as a big supporter of this theory.

Aeolus is the Greek god of the winds and the father of Sisyphus, who, as Sally explains, was the man who was condemned to the harsh, relentless and perpetual punishment of pushing a huge rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down to the bottom again. He had to endure this punishment because he had made a promise to Death that he didn’t keep. In Triangle, it can be said that Jess could be a representation of Sisyphus. Near the end of the film, we see an eerily calm (considering the fact that there were two dead bodies near the scene) taxi driver asking if he could give Jess a ride. Jess asks for a ride to the harbor and makes a promise that she will return back to the taxi, however we already know the events that will transpire once she crosses the harbor and boards the yacht, so we know that this promise of Jess’ is destined to be broken. This could be paralleled to the story of Sisyphus. Since Jess kept breaking her promises to Death, then it was her fate to be condemned and remain stuck in the cycle of boarding the Aeolus, murdering her friends, and unintentionally and tragically causing her son to die.

Overall, Triangle was an interesting movie that I enjoyed and do recommend to others. I went into the movie expecting to be scared, but instead, I found myself captivated by the film’s psychological thriller storyline. It is a movie that gets “weirder and weirder” and pushes the main character to make extreme choices in order to stay alive, until it gets to the point where the only choice left is to follow their destined fate of doom. Even though the film doesn’t follow the trope-based or the tradition-based approach to the horror genre, Triangle does make you think and ponder on the idea of death and its inevitability, and that is what makes it frightening.

1  Mark Jancovich. “General Introduction.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 5.
2  Ibid, 6.


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