DIRECTOR: Harry Wootliff

CAST: Ruth Wilson, Tom Burke, Hayley Squires, Tom Weston-Jones, Elizabeth Rider, Frank McCusker, Ann Firbank, Nathan Ampofo, Michael Moreland

RUNNING TIME: 102 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A lonely woman (Wilson) is drawn to a mysterious stranger (Burke) who overwhelms her quiet life…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

When Adrian Lyne recently returned to erotic thriller territory with Deep Water, it was a far tamer and more ridiculously overplayed example than his stronger works like Fatal Attraction and 9½ Weeks. Now, even the likes of writer-director Harry Wootliff are out-doing Lyne in the erotic thriller camp, with her second feature True Things encapsulating the urgent intimacy and alluringly mysterious attraction that the genre maestro’s latest was sorely lacking in.

Wootliff’s feature is something of a passion project for star and producer Ruth Wilson, who originally optioned Deborah Kay Davies’ 2010 book True Things About Me with the intention of starring alongside Jude Law (who, despite not ultimately appearing in the movie, is also credited as a producer). Wilson plays Kate, a lonely woman living in the seaside town of Ramsgate, where she thanklessly works as a benefits advisor; her life is as uneventful and dull as you can imagine, until a charismatic stranger (Tom Burke, presumably playing the role that Law would have played) comes into her life, as a client who cockily asks her out during their session. Before she knows it, Kate is blowing off her friend Alison (a somewhat underused Hayley Squires) to impulsively have sex with the nameless stranger – whom she names “Blond” after his dyed golden locks of hair – in the office car park. Kate then fully commits to engaging regularly with her new lover, even sneaking out during office hours to spend time with him, although it’s apparent to everyone but Kate that Blond is a bit of a scumbag, constantly insulting her fashion sense and taking advantage of her many insecurities. His toxic persona ultimately begins to have a negative effect on Kate’s life, which starts to unravel at every unhinged turn.

You can tell why Wilson would want to option this source material in the first place, because it provides the actress with a meaty role that requires a consistent level of commitment to make work, otherwise the crux of the increasingly psychological narrative would fall to pieces. Wilson delivers some excellent work here, unafraid to go to some rather dark and disturbing places to play a woman on the edge of her sanity, while Burke – playing perhaps a more overtly masculine version of his equally toxic love interest in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir – revels in his character’s constant state of mystery that always has you questioning his true intentions, all as he keeps luring her in with his easy, borderline predatory, charm. Wootliff, too, makes a strong case for her own filmmaking style, framing the entire film in the square Academy aspect ratio (with some quietly stunning shots by cinematographer Ashley Connor) and zooming in on facial close-ups that emit a sensual and, indeed, erotic feeling almost every time.

As well-made, well-acted and even as erotic as it often is, the most interesting component of True Things is its apparent subversion of certain tropes and expectations. Throughout the film, I was picking up on what I thought were serious hints as to the true nature of this “Blond” character, namely – and please be warned, these are merely speculative observations and not necessarily spoilers – the fact that he might not even be real. There would be moments where, in a lesser film, the character would turn out to be some sort of imaginary figure concocted by the unstable protagonist, on account of him suddenly and all too conveniently appearing and disappearing at moments within Kate’s lonely life (not to mention the fact that we almost never see him interacting with anyone else), and for a while it seriously looked like that would be the case yet again as Wootliff keeps dropping more and more hints that he (literally) might not be all there. However, where the filmmaker impresses is in how she doesn’t exactly make such a thing explicit; she leaves it purely to the imagination of the audience as to whether Blond is just a figment of this psychologically tormented person’s imagination, or actually exists and really is that much of an emotionally abusive bastard. I admire how the writer and director managed to play on those expectations and make the situation all the more uncertain, as I was constantly trying to pick out more clues to this overused trope but didn’t realise that this was probably exactly what Wootliff wanted, only to then pull the rug out from a completely different direction.

Its slow-burn pace, overwhelming air of mystery and sometimes fragmented storytelling might not be to everyone else’s tastes, but True Things is a fascinating film that plays on your expectations and creates an increasingly uncomfortable environment, one where you’re equally drawn into and repulsed by this toxic relationship as much as Kate herself is.

SO, TO SUM UP…

True Things is a sensual and erotic psychological thriller that boasts some fine filmmaking by Harry Wootliff, whose subtle storytelling skills manages to play on certain conventions to create a more uncertain atmosphere, and a captivating lead turn by Ruth Wilson.

True Things is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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