Pressure (15) | Close-Up Film Review
Dir. Ron Scalpello, USA, 2015, 91 mins
Cast: Alan McKenna, Matthew Goode, Danny Huston, Joe Cole, Daisy Lowe
‘Lost and never to be found’
The story of the struggle of four deep-sea saturation divers who become stranded 650ft below sea level in the Indian Ocean (Somali Basin), Ron Scapello’s intense thriller is an all-or-nothing fight for survival as the unfortunate crew must together work in order to reach the surface.
As expected, the narrative remains for the most part linear as the audience witnesses moment by moment changes suffered by the crew after an untimely storm wrecks their chances at resurfacing via the main ship, with every second their chances of survival cut in half as hysteria quickly sets in and sides are chosen. With this in mind, audiences can more than expect big eruptions in such an enclosed space.
However, to this Pressure adds an important subplot, banding the men together as a group of ‘lost boys’ who in differing ways sought out the solace in the ocean’s depths as the opening monologue so openly suggests. Then, as the issue of oxygen becomes the principal concern of all of the pod’s occupants, the sense of impending doom largely related to fear of suffocation quickly magnifies the tensions already felt by each character as each adopts a somewhat ruthless flight-or-fight persona, each preparing for death and at the same time fighting for their chance at survival. Think of it as The Hunger Games but underwater, with a little less violence!
With their only hope of survival resting on retrieving the discarded oxygen tanks that are randomly scatted along the seabed, or manually floating the bell back to the surface (to which the issue of decompression inevitably comes into play) the situation within the tank very quickly, and ferociously, implodes. Yet with this, Scalpello keeps physical violence and foul language to a minimum. Instead his reliance on the genuine emotions of the character involved remains in the film’s foreground and Pressure is all the better for it. So quickly could the film have been bogged down in a number of dramatic plot twists or have suffered from an over-reliance on physical brutality and yet Scalpello makes many of the right steps allowing Pressure to play out more as a psychological thriller than a hyperviolent horror-esque film.
One of the strengths of Pressure is how it remains grounded in fact, especially regarding the physical effects of decompression (reduction/rise in the ambient pressure within the human body experienced during ascent/descent to and from depths which in extreme cases can be fatal) and in maximizing the claustrophobic feel of the diving pod the characters become stranded inside. Matched with the film’s choppy editing and pulsating soundtrack, Pressure comes off much better then initially expected.
With each moment vital supplies start to run out and as expected hysteria reins. As expected each man serves in advancing the plot in a different manner, representing a number of familiar character archetypes – Mitchell (Goode) as the enigmatic leader, Engel (Huston) as the experienced foreman, Jones (Cole) as the impulsive rookie and Hurst (McKenna) as the foolhardy drunkard.
Perhaps the most potent shot within the film is the image of the bell forcefully dumped on the sea bed, misaligned and barely working as lights flicker nonstop leading to a slow outward zoom to reveal an abyss of black water surrounding it from every direction as the crew’s chances appear now nonexistent. As it quickly becomes clear that the company they work for have abandoned them, it now appears that the four man crew must go to extraordinary lengths in order to make it home alive.
Scalpello works well with a small cast and an even smaller setting, the bell being the single location throughout the film’s 91 minutes. Pressure’s cinematography as a physical representation of hysteria is superb as throughout the lights flicker chaotically, coupled with the eerie echoed dripping sounds throughout really plays upon the common fears of the sea as a vast, unpredictable expanse. Likewise the pitch-perfect music score that ripples with every twist within the plot only serves to up the ante in a film that has to do a lot to with such little resources.
Boasting some British acting powerhouses, including Joe Cole as Jones (Offender, Green Room and Peaky Blinders), Matthew Goode as Mitchell (Watchmen, The Imitation Game and Brideshead Revisited) and actor-writer-producer Alan McKenna as Hurst (American Werewolf in Paris and Belle), not failing to mention the Academy-Award Nominated actor Danny Huston as Engel (X-Men, The Aviator and Children of Men), Pressure should be a hit with diehard British audiences. Also watch out for the small Daisy Lowe cameo.
Then as Pressure turns full circle the idea of redemption becomes a keen focus of the film, as sacrifices have to be made by all.
What lengths will the men go to in order to survive?
Review by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark