Recurring Nightmare

Warning: This post contains spoilers!

Christopher Smith’s Triangle (2009) was a film that stressed me out, but it stressed me out in a way that I quite enjoyed. Most people would have seen the film as more of a psychological thriller or a suspense film, but I can see why it fits into the horror genre as well. It is definitely a film I would recommend others to watch.

Right from the opening sequence, it already draws the audience in as it slowly builds its world. Even before any of the visuals appeared, the sounds of the ocean and the calls of seagulls were already heard, hinting at the audience of the main setting of the story. We then see Jess (Melissa George) comforting her son, Tommy (Joshua McIvor), telling him that he was merely experiencing a bad dream. Seeing this had already made me curious of what had happened, but the film withholds that information, and instead, shows Jess at her house, doing absolutely normal things. We still get a vague sense of unease given the music accompanying the sequence, as well as the fact that by the end of it, Jess experiences the classic somebody-rang-my-doorbell-but-they’re-not-there phenomenon that seems to happen in a number of horror mysteries.

The film keeps up the tension as things get weirder and weirder through its twists and turns, making the audience anticipate what happens next while the plot thickens – as the storm threatens to capsize the Triangle, as the ship comes to rescue the characters, and as they start being stalked by someone else on the ship.

Taking Graham Sleight’s effect-based approach to examine Triangle, we can see that it is effective as a film that evokes feelings of peculiarity and discomfort, as is typical in horror movies. Every important plot point revealed to the audience causes them to feel unsettled, because the unraveling only went on to show that there was no escape. This horror movie was fatalistic. Inevitable doom scared the audience, and as they rooted for Jess to escape her fate, they shared in her panic and dread as she struggled to make it out of the loop she found herself stuck in.

However, to say that my opinion of Triangle as a good horror film is based solely on the emotions I felt watching it would be incredibly limiting. Aside from Triangle as “affect horror,” the film can also be seen through John Clute’s moves-based approach, which states that there are four key parts to a horror narrative – the sighting, the thickening, the revel, and the aftermath.

The sighting in this case, the initial encounter with the strange, refers to the sighting of the storm. This was the point where things started getting weird in the film, and from then, things only got weirder. Jess had her suspicions about the ship, saying it seemed familiar, and as the characters explored it and discovered Jess’s keys and the bloody writing on the mirror, the thickening happens – that is, we get the sense that something is amiss, that there is a world hidden beneath the world that has been shown to us in the film so far. The revel happens when this world becomes exposed. It is when Jess finally figures out that she herself, or rather, other versions of herself had been killing off the others, that she was stuck inside a time loop, and that the only way to get out of it and to go back home was to be the “bad” Jess and to do the killing – or at least we think that this is the revel at first, until the film takes us by surprise just when we think it’s over and reveals that even off the ship, Jess was still stuck inside a time loop. With all the dead seagulls piling up, as well as with Jess’s decision to go back to the harbor after the car crash, we are led to the aftermath of the film, where Jess’s world has been changed forever, and she decides to go through her fate once again, in the off-chance that she may actually change it. Yet, who knows if she ever will, given the number of times she has gone through the time loop?

Mark Janovich writes in the introduction of Horror, The Film Reader that horror is about the encounter between the known and unknown. (Janovich 2002, 8) Triangle is a film that shows us a world that we think we know, and then brings in an unknown world that perplexes the viewers and horrifies them when it makes itself known. By the end of the film, the viewers don’t find themselves with consolation. Instead, they are left with the dread associated with the futile fight against certain fate. Somehow though, they may still want Jess to keep trying to fight her fate, as horror films are also about our wish to “smash the norms that oppress us.” (13)

There are still many ways to read the film, and I’m glad to have seen it as it has made me think a lot during and even after watching it. As a final note, I’d like to quote a line Jess said in the beginning as she was consoling Tommy. She said, “You know what I do when I have a bad dream? I close my eyes and think of something nice.” This may have foreshadowed her refusal to accept her and her son’s fate and her willingness to go through the cycle again to attempt to change it, to turn it into something nice, but it also reminded me of how horror films are said to be like nightmares. After hearing that line, I was definitely expecting a nightmare to come – and Triangle delivered. It was a brilliant nightmare, and a recurring one at that.


Janovich, M. (2002). Horror, The Film Reader. London: Routledge.

Sleight, G. (2006) Storying Genres from Vector Magazine.





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