rauma" is the latest film from British
helmer Marc Evans, who brought us the web cam voyeur horror "My
Little Eye". Like that film, "Trauma" is very much
focused on paranoia and deception, this time with significant injections of
insanity, delusion, and hordes of ants. Again, Evans insinuates the viewer
into the proceedings through a number of camera techniques, attempting to
help us experience the confusion of the film's tortured protagonist.
However, where "My Little
Eye" succeeded by creating a creepy, ambient atmosphere,
"Trauma" wallows in shabby, self-indulgent surrealism. Whilst it
certainly succeeds in giving the viewer an insight into the mind of a very
confused man, the result is a film that is similarly rambling, rather
hollow, and worst of all, clichéd. Although "Trauma" is not
actually a terrible film, the pace drags unforgivably as it limps towards
its heavily signposted conclusion, leaving the viewer more bored than
The film opens with Ben (Colin Firth, English
romantic comedy stalwart from saccharine nightmares like "Love
Actually") waking up from a coma, having been in a car crash that
killed his wife (Naomie Harris of "28
Days Later"). After leaving the hospital, Ben tries to get his
life back together but is haunted, not only by bloody visions of the
accident, but by a seemingly inexplicable obsession with the recent murder
of a pop singer. Into his life comes his neighbor, the beautiful and
mysterious Charlotte (Mena Suvari, from the loathsome "American
Beauty"). Charlotte appears to be trying to help Ben get over his
loss, but she may in fact have an agenda of her own. Ben's grip on reality
starts to slip rapidly, and as his paranoia grows, it seems that his
memories of past events may not be what they seem.
As you can tell from the above synopsis, the plot of
"Trauma" is somewhat convoluted. Although thankfully not another
'big twist' film, the narrative is quite obviously leading towards a
revelation regarding the protagonist's sanity, and therein lies the
problem. The viewer is quite aware that Ben is crazy right from the start,
and as the film progresses, our interest is supposed to be held by the
uncertainty as to whether he is a murderer or merely a harmless obsessive.
Either way, although Firth is a good actor, his is not a particularly
likable character, or indeed realistic, as beyond his obvious problems we
are given little insight into his emotional core.
The upshot of this is that the film, though focused,
never engages, and the interest in uncovering the mystery is diminished,
and even boring in places. The film is slowly paced, and despite a short
running time, it comes across as overly ponderous and since the conclusion
is fairly obvious, a lot of it feels rather redundant. Evans is
undoubtedly a talented director, but much of "Trauma" is lazily
done, and the over stylized approach tends to detract from the gritty
sense of realism that the film appears to be striving for.
The viewer is also bombarded with clichéd, obvious
symbolism to reflect Ben's growing madness. In particular an ant farm from
which more insects escape as things degenerate. As an attempt to add some
texture to the film and the character, this is childish and ineffective,
as are the other motifs that are constantly being thrust in the viewer's
face. Also quite ridiculous is the inclusion of the time old technique of
equating the protagonist's state of mind with the state of his facial
hair, especially since Firth can only boast a beard that is straggly at
The film would definitely have benefited if Evans had
simply taken his foot off the pedal, credited the audience with a little
more intelligence, and let us work a few of the details out for ourselves.
Similarly counting against the film is its over use of the twitching,
convulsing faceless figures that have been crowding out would-be
psychological horrors since the mid-nineties. Again, this only serves to
make events even less convincing.
There are some good points, however, such as Evans'
use of CCTV footage, which definitely adds to the atmosphere of voyeurism,
and helps the film with its themes of paranoia and stalking. Also
effective are some of the scenes of ants and spiders (despite a couple of
laughably bad plastic fakes) that at least inject some energy since the
film is devoid of set pieces or visceral action. The soundtrack is worth
mentioning, with some nice creepy electronic noises that accentuate the
tension and growing confusion. All in all, these flourishes are kind of a
shame, as whilst technically impressive, the viewer can't help but wish
they were seeing them in a better film.
Whilst "Trauma" is not a particularly bad
movie, neither is it particularly exciting or well made. There have been
far more effective portraits of madness and paranoia, generally in films
that relied far less on clichéd visuals or textbook symbolism. Rather
dull, patronizing and vaguely pointless, "Trauma" is probably
worth catching on DVD, but certainly not deserving of a cinema visit.