Brake: Edinburgh Review

Smart sound-design elevates this lukewarm-tense man-in-a-box thriller.

The film stars Stephen Dorff as a Secret Service Agent who is locked in the trunk of a car and tortured by terrorists attempting to exact a plot against the President of the United States.

EDINBURGH - High-octane claustrophobia is the aim of Brake, a low-budget, high-concept thriller almost entirely set in the trunk of a car. But a nicely twisty finale notwithstanding, the picture plays very much like a opportunistic, cheap-and-cheerful redux of Buried, Rodrigo Cortes' man-in-a-coffin Ryan Reynolds vehicle from 2010. IFC Films gave this virtual one-man show for Stephen Dorff a fleeting two-theater US release in March - a prelude to what will inevitably be a much longer small-screen afterlife. Festivals seeking undemanding midnight-movie fare for genre-savvy aficionados will perhaps want to give it a spin.

While on paper a vehicle for Dorff - enduring uncomfortably cramped conditions for the bulk of the running-time and seldom off-camera - and a calling-card debutant scriptwriter Matthew Mannion, who must devise means of keeping us engaged in the protagonist's plight,
Brake is chiefly of interest as a testament to the skills of veteran sound-designer Richard Beggs. Part of the Walter Murch team which won the 1979 Best Sound Oscar for Apocalypse Now, his first credit, Beggs has over the decades been the go-to-guy for the entire Coppola directing clan - including Sofia Coppola's Venice-winning and Dorff-starring Somewhere.

With by far the most distinguished resume of any behind-the-camera contributor here (including
Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Rain Man, Ghostbusters), Beggs expertly crafts an immersive soundscape that brings the world outside the trunk to vivid life - thus placing us in the shoes of Secret Service agent Jeremy Reins (Dorff). Reins wakes up to find himself trapped in a transparent, coffin-like perspex box, gradually realizing that he's part of an elaborate, 9/11-style terrorist attack on Washington by unspecified foreign evildoers.

As the car carrying him in its trunk speeds towards an unspecified destination, a red LED clock repeatedly counts down to zero. Like many details of Mannion's script, that LED display is primarily a means of generating and maintaining suspense - all the better to stop us pondering on the contrived implausibilities upon which his story relies. In a game, physically demanding and ferociously committed turn, Dorff does his best to retain our interest and sympathies - drenched at various times in sweat, blood and explosive fluids, though thankfully Jeremy retains impressive control over his bladder and bowels.

Despite its contemporary trappings and terrorist angles,
Brake is fundamentally a very old-fashioned kind of picture. With its closed-'room' setting, single main character and reliance on communication devices - here a CB radio and a cellphone - with which its confinee can intermittently communicate with authorities, loved ones and hapless bystanders, it's in a venerable lineage that stretches all the way back to Lucille Fletcher's 1943 radio play Sorry, Wrong Number, adapted for the big screen by Paramount in 1948.

As well as
Buried, Brake therefore also invites comparison with the likes of Joel Schumacher's Phone Booth (2002) and David R. Ellis's much-underrated Cellular (2004), both from stories by schlockmeister Larry Cohen. But though Mannion and Torres - who's mainly worked in TV since directing a pair of obscure 1990s indies - display little of Cohen's subversive wit and imagination, they've assembled a reasonably tight little package that builds to an unexpectedly tart payoff.

Venue: Edinburgh International Film Festival, Jun. 22, 2012.

Production company: Walking West Entertainment

Cast: Stephen Dorff, J.R. Bourne, Chyler Leigh, Tom Berenger, Kali Rocha

Director: Gabe Torres

Screenwriter: Matthew Mannion

Producers: Gabe Torres, James Walker, Nathan West

Co-producers: Chyler Leigh, Andrew Hilton

Director of photography: James Mathers

Production designer: John Mott

Costume designer: Mary Grace Froehlich

Music: Brian Tyler

Editor: Sam Restivo

Sales Agent: Walking West, Los Angeles

Rated R, 91 minutes.