Trapped (Piege): Film Review

Trapped Film Still - H 2014
Bellissima Films

Trapped Film Still - H 2014

A well-staged if empty genre exercise.

Pascal Elbe (“The Other Son”) stars in writer-director Yannick Saillet’s debut thriller, about a soldier stuck atop a landmine in the Afghan desert.

A tightly wound wartime thriller that’s high on concept, twists and turns but devoid of anything else, Trapped (Piege) marks an intriguing if rather run-of-the-mill feature debut for writer-director Yannick Saillet. Very much like the Iraq-set Ryan Reynolds starrer Buried, but switching the action to Afghanistan and staging it above ground when a French soldier steps on a landmine in the middle of the desert, this well-crafted Franco-Italian production should see its greatest battles waged on VOD and specialty Euro TV, with some programming at international genre fests.

After a convoy of Gallic troops finds itself ambushed by faceless insurgents, two survivors -- the stoic Denis (Pascal Elbe) and conniving Murat (Laurent Lucas) -- take off in hot pursuit of the enemy. But they’re quickly caught in their tracks when Murat is gunned down and Denis walks over an old Soviet-era mine, which will most likely blow him to bits if he dares to step off it.

Setting the remainder of the movie atop the hillside where Denis is forced to remain, standing upright, until help perhaps arrives, Saillet and three credited co-writers milk the situation for all they can, bringing in a host of variables including a sniper, a truckload of heroine, a bound-and-gagged French prisoner (Caroline Bal), a gang of burqa-clad fighters and an Afghan boy (Othmane Younouss) who may be Denis’ only way out.

If the dialogue, when there is any, leans towards the overwrought (for example, “That’s 10 million euros!" “You mean 10 million problems!”), the action is often skillfully handled, with Saillet and DP Ray Dumas (Anvil: The Story of Anvil) staging everything from Denis’ limited viewpoint and making full use of their highly photogenic setting (the film was shot in Morocco’s Ouarzazate desert).

Much better when he’s not speaking, Elbe (The Other Son) does a good job as a one-man-band facing unknown enemies and fierce natural elements, highlighted by a sandstorm that complicates matters even more in the film’s protracted third act. If we never really learn what makes Denis tick, he works well as a pure symbol of human resistance, staying alive for much longer than any of us ever could.

Clocking in at less than 75 minutes sans credits, Trapped is basically a lean and mean genre exercise whose strong technical contributions, including excellent sound work by Zacharie Naciri, Remi Durel and Juliet Tribout, make up for its tight budget (€3 million, or $4 million) and lack of anything interesting to say. Its pleasures, of which there are a few, run about as deep as the landmine itself, buried just beneath the surface.

Opens: Wednesday, Jan. 15 (in France)
Production companies: Babe Films, Cheli Films, Iron Monkey, Myra Film
Cast: Pascal Elbe, Laurent Lucas, Caroline Bal
Director: Yannick Saillet
Screenwriters: Yannick Saillet, Jeremie Galan, Vincent Crouzet, Patrick Gimenez
Producers: Fabio Conversi, Patrick Gimenez
Director of photography: Ray Dumas
Production designer: Ricardo Russo
Music: Thierry Blanchard, Robert Goldman
Editor: Eric Jacquemin
Visual effects supervisor: Eric Poulet
Sales agent: Other Angle Pictures
No rating, 78 minutes