The Infernal Machine (2022) **** – Seen at the Cinema

Enigma and irony are hard enough to pull off in a drama never mind an intellectual thriller that plays around with reality. So full marks for a terrific performance by Guy Pearce (The Seventh Day, 2021) holding together a relatively simple tale of paranoia, and writer-director Andrew Hunt (The Miles Between Us, 2016) for teasing it out.

Author Bruce (Guy Pearce) has written a bestseller that triggered sociopath Dwight Tufford (Alex Pettyfer) into carrying out a mass killing. Hiding out in a remote cabin away from any feeding frenzy, and drowning in alcohol, he’s nonetheless being stalked by obsessive fan William Dukent who sends him daily missives by post, conveniently attaching a contact number but infuriatingly never answering his phone. Aware how obsession can end (for example, in mass murder), he’s none too keen on meeting said fan, and is armed against intruders.

That his mental health is imperilled suggests some deeper psychological problem since beyond irritation there is no obvious threat. Ad bearing in mind he’s an alcoholic, there’s always a possibility his nemesis is himself. Before he achieved fame he was your standard creative writer teacher so we’re regaled in flashback or voice-over with some of the rules of writing, but what appears mere filler material takes on deeper meaning in the third act.

What makes this transparently different from your standard paranioa thriller is that Bruce is hardly equipped to hunt down bad guys, possessing none of the “particular set of skills” possessed by the likes of Bryan Mills (Taken, 2008), and no military background to call on. It takes him forever to even work out that the name of his antagonist is actually a clue.

Eventually, he is assisted in his endeavors by cop Officer Higgins (Alice Eve) but nothing makes much sense and he deteriorates further into an alcoholic haze. Even while every step forward turns into a step back, at least he is on the case. And then the twists come thick and fast.

I’m a pretty big fan of twists and because I generally watch twist-ridden pictures am inclined to go with the flow, though not without trying to figure the puzzle in my own mind. But when the final parts of this particular jigsaw unfold they are of the unexpected variety. If I tell you any more I’ll give the game away.

So, primarily, it relies on a somewhat incoherent fellow trying to find coherence in a world that has to all extents and purposes betrayed him. After years of rejection, he has finally grasped the brass ring (if that’s what you do with brass rings) filled with awards and a mass of cash (enough at least to fund this retreat and heroic alcohol consumption). Whatever his book has triggered in the mind of an assassin is never made clear; the novel is about a priest who disproves the existence of God. And given it’s impossible to understand the deranged mind, that could just leave him a victim of circumstance, in a perfect storm of angst, and all the while trying to determine how, as befits a writer, this chimes with his own personal narrative, every individual being the hero of his own tale.

Except for the title, this has got nothing to do with the film under review but I was stuck for another illustration and this came to hand.

As I said, it all hangs on the performance of Guy Pearce who’s been here before in Memento (2000) and he creates a believable contradiction, intelligent enough to try to make sense of his stalker but at the same time arguing with a telephone answering machine.

Only a couple of sections are questionable, how to engineer an escape from a super-maximum security prison and how Bruce would know the capabilities of a bullet when not fired from an actual gun. But by that time you’re already along for the ride.

Andrew Hunt doesn’t give much away until he has to and it’s to his credit that we care so much for an isolated character minus the standard wife or daughter there to generate  audience empathy. Given the hero is not a particularly likeable character, it’s no mean feat to get us on his side, especially when he dips into philosophy and tips on writing. Hunt devised the screenplay from a story by Louis Kornfeld, who originated the source material, the wonderfully-titled The Hilly-Earth Society, for a podcast.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

6 thoughts on “The Infernal Machine (2022) **** – Seen at the Cinema”

  1. So close to home; a friend of mine was at Knox Universal church 2008 when gunman opened fire. Murders mentioned in movie fictional? Nearly broke cardinal rule via dog getting hurt… writing should never be that difficult, no? I disagree with writer and movie RE a story being a journey of transformation. Sometimes, like a cigar, a story is simply meant to be entertaining, or instructional, or a means to grin at absurdity of life? This was a rather ironic tale of a pickled, twisty character with low character? His end decision was apt. Excellent critique of a tricky to review plot! Hilly Earth Society, a pun on Whole Earth Catalog?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There is so much random violence that we are all affected. We have had too many in Britain, which is supposed to be immune to such characters. I couldn’t wuite work out when this was set with the bulky computers etc. I was trying not to give too much away otherwise it was a character trapped by his own crime. The writer craft stuff was the stuff second-rate writers spout and given what he had done it sounded as false as the rest of his narrative. Not exactly unreliable narrator but certainly untrustworthy. The Hilly Earth was taking issue with the Flat Earth theory on the assumption that although in one sense you could argue the flat earth notion, even if you did you would have to concede it was still full of hills and therefore not exactly flat.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ah flat earth, not whole earth catalog…missed that in viewing. I live near Knoxville now, but not in early 80s, so when I crime in Knoxville was mentioned, I tried to look it up., as if it was based on something real, beaucoup real crimes in moderns times…Still wonder if it was modeled on Unitarian church killings? Author is NYC theatre director now… cheers!

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Nothing to do with Cocteau. The cheapskate producers only provided two posters and my articles generally have three illustrations so when my Googling turned up the Cocteau, for the hell of it I just stuck it in.

      Like

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