For low-budget filmmakers, having a tiny cast and only one or two locations is a huge bonus in keeping costs down. This has led to a number of films based on ‘locked room’ scenarios over the last decade and a half. Cube (1997) was an excellent, genre-defining example of this and in subsequent years, Maléfique (2002), Ryûhei Kitamura’s Alive (2002), Saw (2004), Fermat’s Room (2007) and Exam (2009) have explored horror and science fiction variations on the theme. Many of these have screened at SCI-FI-LONDON or FrightFest in the past so this is starting to become a well-worn theme for fans of the genre and regular genre festival attendees.
Enrico Clerico Nasino’s True Love, which screens at SCI-FI-LONDON this month, is another example, but unfortunately, it adds little that hasn’t been seen before. The central premise of a young married couple, kept in separate, futuristic cells and made to answer difficult questions about how much they trust each other under the threat of water, sleep or mobility being removed is strong enough. As a film made by Italians with an American cast and setting, this could have resulted in an interesting exploration of Abu Ghraib/Guantanamo Bay-style interrogation techniques on middle-class suburbanites who experienced the ‘war on terror’ as a mild diversion through their televisions, but disappointingly, this aspect is barely hinted at.
Instead, the writers and directors have reality dating shows and the Milgram experiment in their sights as the subjects they’re giving an SF twist to. Even then, the science-fictional aspect of the film is minimal, apart from a final scene that adds an eye-catching set piece of gravity working differently in opposite ends of the prison-like environment. [SPOILER WARNING] But this is undermined by a ‘was it all a dream?’ ending, and the nature of the lies they have told each other - adultery, financial trouble - is more suited to romantic melodrama than a death trap thriller. [END OF SPOILERS]
Neither the two main actors or the parts they’re playing are particularly engaging, meaning that the film’s main attraction lies in the more technical aspects of the production. True Love‘s direction, editing, cinematography and sound design are all solid, and for these qualities alone, those involved behind the scenes deserve to work on bigger and better things, but the film overall suffers of a lack of ambition and originality. While True Love isn’t by any means a particularly bad film, for audiences to get the most out of its narrative and visual twists and turns, they’ll need to be unfamiliar with similar narratives that have dealt with these tropes better and with more imagination.