A working holiday in the sun, Ana Walker endures an awkward call with her mother back home as the coach shudders across the winding back roads of rural France, her perpetually scowling boyfriend Tom Dawkins beside her; disembarking at an impromptu stop, they make their way across the fields following the scrawled directions to the farmhouse of their host Richard who tries to make them welcome despite Ana’s apprehension and Tom’s hostility.
Troubled by nightmares, Ana struggles to sleep, her unease exacerbated by Tom’s undisguised and unjustified dislike of Richard, but even as he prepares to walk off the job with no money, no return ticket and nowhere to go she finds herself warming to Richard despite the strangeness of the arrangements, the library of blank books, the buildings which are off limits, the pack of dogs with no names…
The feature debut of director Renata Gabryjelska from a script by Blazej Dzikowski based on Gabryjelska’s outline, Richard would have Ana believe that she is safe inside but Tom’s constant jealousy and confrontational urges present a threat to any possibility of harmonious cohabitation, a purely physical being to whom any expression of intellect is an act of aggression, an odd trigger given the wild leaps of imagination he later demonstrates.
Like Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s borderline incoherent attempt to convey her subconscious fears of surgery in Évolution, Safe Inside was conceived around a specific concept explained in a closing statement attached to the credits, but the bridge between idea and execution is tenuous, the midpoint reveal signposted in the opening scene and the second half reliant on Tom Ainsley carrying the emotional burden as the suddenly devoted boyfriend when his petulant actions have been nothing but selfish.
With Ana and Tom supposedly American though neither Andrea Tidavar nor Ainsley make even a token attempt to alter their accents, there are other incongruities; Tom is reticent to call the embassy because he has violated the conditions of his parole, travelling abroad without permission, yet the circumstances as revealed make it unavoidable that call would already have been made by the authorities as soon as he came to their attention.
At least making the effort to modify his pronunciation to pass as French, Steven Brand’s Richard instead inherits other problems, Safe Inside shifting from a mystery to a thriller which requires his formerly ambiguous presence to be perceived as a threat, a villain to be defeated who is implausibly manipulating events, a contrivance perhaps more dramatic but which sits uncomfortably with the than cerebral concepts which the director’s statement indicated she wished to express and explore
Safe Inside will be released on Monday 7th June on all digital platforms