There is a discussion to be had about the genre classification of the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Known as “The Master of Suspense”, few filmmakers wielded innovation and ambition as a weapon as well as Hitchcock, who redefined genres and subgenres with each passing film. However, even though many of his films can be seen as espionage thrillers and intricate crime mysteries, Hitchcock is still most often associated with the horror genre, which is strange considering how few out-and-out horror films the notorious director made throughout his long career. One could argue the borderline macabre darkness attached to his films would lean them closer to horror than any other subgenre, and others may argue that the tension and unpredictability within his stories often incited reactions often expected towards horror films. However, one cannot deny that Hitchcock still remains an inimitable and imposing figure on all horror, crime and thriller filmmakers who followed, and allowed the audiences of his films to feel as intellectually equal as the storyteller, even during his more shocking and terrifying moments.
It’s in these senses, as well as the consistent aversion to expectation, that the thriller Trance excels, allowing the old-fashioned crime story to be seen through the darkened, frenetic eyes of director Danny Boyle. Featuring strong performances amongst a strong cast, an excellent and brilliant narrative arc and effective use of sound design, Hitchcock fans will find much to love in the world of Trance, but the breathtaking visuals and bold storytelling devices associated with Boyle bringing a modern, beautiful and hypnotic spin on these classic mechanisms. In line with Boyle’s previous material, the film does delve deep into the darker side of humanity and the depravity of the emotional, possibly the most of any of his films since Shallow Grave, but the film is still an engulfing, stylistic experience that’s too sly to let the audience gain the upper hand.
Admirably enough, Trance begins much like a hypnosis session, allowing you to know all the information and context of the world you’re about to inhabit, but through a calm, informed and measured cadence that drops the information you should know when you need to know it. However, the film then bolts through time and space, getting into increasingly nasty business as the puzzle puts itself together, piece by piece. In the most traditional sense of storytelling, Trance follows the story of a group of criminals who’s on-the-job improvisation during an art heist leaves the inside man as an amnesiac, and must turn to a hypnotherapist to locate the hidden multi-million dollar artwork. But Boyle is too smart to tell a story such as this traditionally, instead unfolding the story through a series of unreliable storytellers and challenging what you think you knew about the film with each passing scene.
I must admit that this film is very difficult to critique, as there is so much innovation and spectacle brought to the proceedings in such a fresh manner that any problems with one may experience with the pacing or logical progression can often be rationalized later in the film in a more-than-satisfying payoff. Furthermore, the way the film weaves in elements of other genres, from comedy to horror to surrealism, is incredibly effective, complimented and justified through the visual ecstasy that Boyle brings to the screen. The use of vibrant colors and varied camera movements by ace cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle help convey messages to the audience and clues to the story that most filmmakers would assign to expository dialogue, and for this reason, a palpable sense of mystique and suspense reigns from start to finish. Factor in a brilliant script from Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, the pulsating musical mash-up score from Rick Smith and the borderline perfect editing from Jon Harris, and Trance becomes a frontrunner for the best looking, best sounding and most logically impressive crime mystery of the year.
These elements of Trance can all be considered first towards the film as they’re the first elements you receive before being introduced to the utterly incredible cast. The film is filled with top-tier performers, given the appropriate material to each shine in their own way while never let any character’s true nature seep through their visage, at least initially. James McAvoy is incredible in the lead role, adding an nuances of insecurity and rage give depth to his otherwise know-it-all demeanor, which is especially wonderful to watch in contrast to his amnesiatic behavior. McAvoy is given great compatriots to work against, with Rosario Dawson going to daring lengths yet grounding her character so much so in reality and emotional vulnerability that one may find it difficult not to align yourself with her, despite her motivations being largely unclear until the late second act. Likewise, Vincent Cassell shines, using his smarm and brash roles in an exciting duality, consistently bouncing between protagonist and antagonist as our films perspective bends ever so constantly. The supporting cast, albeit relegated to perfunctory characters, are also great and completely committed to the role, making their short time in the film count as much as the leads.
Of course, Trance’s effectiveness as a film hinges on Danny Boyle’s Mad Hatter aesthetic and approach to cohesively add these chaotic parts to create a smooth and clever caper. Even though he is appropriating themes and motifs seen in the crime films of the golden age, Boyle’s film never feels derivative; inversely, Trance feels boldly original and subversive, allowing motivations to organically change as the stakes escalate but simultaneously provide an aura of dread-inspiring secrecy to every action. All in all, Trance is a striking, gripping and jaw-dropping thriller that will make you laugh, gasp and sink you within your seat, and ironically so, the film will stay in your thoughts for days to come.
A film this significantly involved in visual storytelling deserves an equally significant transfer, and Fox does not disappoint. The transfer is incredible, with colors incredibly defined and lush, and clarity and sharpness at an optimal grade. This is an HD transfer for the books, with grain nearly completely absent and crush never distractingly present.
One of the most impressive audio transfers I’ve seen, with ADR completely not distracting to achieve the proper hypnotic effect through the English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, although the film is also offered in English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and French Dolby Digital 5.1. Audio tracks almost never distractingly overlap and everything is to sync and plays without hiss or distracting level imbalance.
Although not laden with features, this set has quite a satisfying assembly of special features. A Making Of Documentary, entitled The Power of Suggestion, recaps the processes of making the film and the construction of Trance’s narrative from its influences. This set also features Deleted Scenes, not exactly revelatory in nature but still interesting and providing a bigger scope and intricacy to individual scenes. Also attached is an informative and intriguing Danny Boyle Retrospective and the Short Film Eugene by Spencer Susser, which has a similar visual style and plays with the themes of suggestive power.
Trance is a captivating and intelligent crime film that would make Alfred Hitchcock proud, and is one of Boyle’s best films to date. If you are fine with the dark spots that the film occasionally veers into, then you’ll be swept into the world of hypnosis, deception and desperation that Boyle, Ahearde, Hodge, Mantle, Harris and Smith build for you. Trance is gorgeous, refreshing and undeniably intense, often times all at once, and you shouldn’t let this genre-friendly gem slip under your radar.
– By Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.