A Perfect Getaway (dir/scr: David Twohy)
We’ve seen the variations on the story: an urban couple leaves the comfort of civilization for a vacation isolated in the wilds, where there just so happens to be a killer on the loose and no end to suspicious characters who conveniently cross their path and drop comments that could be interpreted as anything from dubious revelations to veiled threats.
David Twohy’s A Perfect Getaway delivers everything you expect – attractive performers in paradise, breathtaking landscapes and lush scenery, ominous tensions and plenty of action – and something you likely did not suspect: suspense, surprise and sheer fun. In a film culture where genre storytelling all too often boils down to the stock gimmicks used over and over again with special effects or high concept twists to hide the familiarity, this is so refreshingly old school smart that it feels almost new.
Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich are cute as playfully clueless urbanites Cliff and Cydney, honeymooners plodding through the wilds of Kauai. There’s been a murder in Honolulu and the killers (it’s a couple “just like Natural Born Killers”) could be anywhere. Especially out here in the jungle, it seems, as Cliff and Cydney hike to a hidden beach accessible only by water or miles of winding hiking trails. After tangling with a scruffy hitchhiker (Chris Hemsworth) with a spiky girlfriend (Marley Shelton) and anger management issues, they tag along with Nick (Timothy Olyphant), a former special forces officer (or so he says) with a cocky confidence and a survivalist mentality, and his adoring, somewhat dizzy girlfriend Gina (Kiele Sanchez).
The class tensions are palpable and the cultural disconnect gaping. Cliff goes fumbling for a cell phone signal like a tenderfoot looking for a digital umbilical cord. Nick goes bow hunting for dinner and returns victorious while Gina happily guts the game. When Nick discovers Cliff is a screenwriter he offers him his ostensibly classified experiences as story fodder with an amateur’s conviction that he’s got a million dollar idea in his head. “Remember that,” Nick likes to say after a particularly juicy detail, like how to quickly fell a tree in a escape or how he survived a explosion that blew off the back of his skull. “He is really hard to kill,” announces Gina with genuine pride.
And it’s in the details, from the talk of survival techniques and story ideas and red herrings (“I’m pretty sure they’re called red snappers,” Nick uneasily insists, vaguely recalling some screenwriting seminar) to the little clues that are snuck in under the dramatic explosions and simmering tensions, that writer/director David Twohy plays on and plays with our expectations. We’ve all seen these types of films and Twohy makes that part of the game when he builds up the tension and tightens down the plot… and then delivers a narrative surprise that is as fun as it is unexpected. He overplays the exposition, but he does it with style and offers us the insights that explain the behavior of these killers, for whom playing the part to the hilt is part of the thrill. And part of the psychosis.
Twohy, who previously made the great pulp sci-fi thriller Pitch Black and the underrated submarine horror Below, is a clever writer and a deft director, to be sure, but he also writes characters that keep your attention and action that remains true to the spirit of the story. A Perfect Getaway is a terrific piece of filmmaking, so well-tuned that you never see machinery at work until the gears all click into place. By then you’re just racing to keep up with the adrenaline charge of a film running for its life. We may slip and slide through the twists, but Twohy never loses his footing.