Writer/director Warren Dudley made us sit up and take notice here at Starburst HQ a few years ago with his micro-budget British found footage feature The Cutting Room. A name to watch, we thought sagely. Turns out our tingling Spidey senses were right on the money yet again; Warren’s back with his second film which happily more than justifies our faith in him the first time out. Cage – another shoestring affair for sure – is a tense and supremely accomplished little thriller set almost entirely in one location and featuring just one on-screen cast member. This is a conceit which offers up any number of pitfalls and yet Dudley nimbly sidesteps them all, delivering an unnerving, jagged film which puts its lead (and, indeed, only) character into an uncomfortable and extreme situation and then asks us what we might do if we found ourselves faced with a similar unpalatable dilemma.
It’s late 2001 and a lean opening sequence introduces us to Gracie Blake (Cutting Room’s Quinlan) as she paces the countryside around Seattle (the film’s only exterior scene); a series of telephone calls tell us all we need to know at this stage about her circumstances. She works on a telephone chat-line, she’s heavily in debt, her young daughter is in temporary foster care. Things are rough and about get rougher as she breaks her golden rule and agrees to meet one of her telephone customers on the promise of enough cash to lift her out of her impecunity. But when she wakes and finds herself chained up and locked in a wooden cage in an abandoned warehouse somewhere not far from the middle of nowhere with only her mobile phone for company, it becomes apparent that there’s more to the deal than she might have anticipated. Her implacable captor Peter (Bergin, a presence in voice only) tells her that this is something he has to do and that she’ll be safe, fed and watered (and provided with a reassuring supply of toilet rolls) until such time as he sees fit to release her. Gracie keeps in touch with the outside world – her boyfriend, her parents – without being able to call the Police or, at first, explain what’s happened to her and where she is.
What’s a girl to do? Gracie panics, she screams, she tries to reason with her captor and she tries to reassure her loved ones even as her situation becomes more desperate and her need to escape becomes more pronounced. Although Cage is pretty much a one-hander and the action is confined to one stifling location, Dudley dextrously never allows the film to feel cramped or claustrophobic. We quickly become immersed in Gracie’s plight and we’re rooting for things to turn out right for her and the plot cleverly teases her – and the audience – with the anticipation of imminent freedom and then cruelly snatches it away. In the final reel one last devastating twist (which it’s entirely possible some might find in slightly bad taste) pitches the film into much darker territory and turns a propulsive, unsettling thriller into something akin to a terrifying horror story ripped straight from our worst nightmares. Lucy-Jane Quinlan is astonishingly good as Gracie – it takes an actor of rare confidence to hold an entire film together alone – and Warren Dudley exhibits an innate ability to tell a taut story economically, his script slick and well-observed, his direction endlessly inventive; he really makes the restricted scale of the story work and clearly delights in finding new ways of exploiting the setting and the situation to maximum dramatic effect.
A wonderful and very welcome antidote to the usual summer blockbuster overload; we’re more than pleased to see Warren Dudley building on the promise of his debut feature. This is one Cage we recommend you get into without hesitation.
CAGE / CERT: 15 / SCREENPLAY AND DIRECTOR: WARREN DUDLEY / STARRING: LUCY-JANE QUINLAN, PATRICK BERGIN, JAKE UNSWORTH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW