“Is it live, or is it Semtex?”
This is one of those which split the panel here. Chris was thoroughly unimpressed with its lack of a well-defined conclusion: “I knew it,” she muttered, “As soon as I saw this had a woman writer/director.” Certainly, if you are looking for a clear, structured thriller, this won’t be for you. Explanations are notable by their absence, as we learn about a young girl, preparing to stage a suicide bombing in Times Square. Who is she? Why is she doing this? What group is helping her? We never really learn explicitly. There are occasional clues, such as an Islamic-themed backdrop in front of which she is carefully posed for the traditional video, but as we never get to see the video, it’s inconclusive. We get hints of family trauma: she says her parents are dead, but later on, calls them from a payphone, and the only possession she wants to keep is a photo of a kid brother. But “Leah Cruz” – the woman whose identity she adopts, and on which she is relentlessly quizzed by the cell commander (Weinstein) is basically a blank canvas, onto which you can project whatever you want. “I have only one death and I want my death to be for you,” she says at the start; that’s as much of an explanation as you’ll get.
It is a cop-out, no question about it, and I can’t blame Chris for being annoyed: it’s both lazy story-telling and bad film-making to make the audience do all the heavy lifting, as Loktev does here. However, I tend to think it occasionally does the brain good to give it a workout, and let’s be honest, the Girls With Guns genre isn’t usually the place to find such an exercise. That doesn’t excuse the maddeningly unfinal ending, however, that is the film’s weakest moment. If Loktev had delivered a genuine conclusion – one way or the other, it doesn’t really matter – she would have been on much firmer ground. Up until then, I was willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt, with Williams providing a surprisingly strong core: excruciatingly polite, yet bent on committing the most awful destruction through her 40-pound backpack [“It’s mostly nails,” says one of the cell, helpfully].
The devil is very much in the details: she clips her toenails and requests a pizza, behaving more like a college girl than someone preparing to carry out mass murder. But would any terrorist group allow its human bomb to wander the streets aimlessly, rather than heading straight for the target? Surely every minute increases the risk of capture and failure? It’s in aspects such as this that the hyper-realistic feel – no incidental music, for example – breaks down, and you are reminded that what you’re watching is just as much cinematic contrivance as 24 or Vantage Point.
Dir: Julia Loktev
Star: Luisa Williams, Josh P. Weinstein