Emaciated metalworker Trevor Reznik (Bale) is falling apart. He can’t eat, he can’t sleep and someone is playing Hangman on his fridge Post-It notes. And who’s the big guy in the red sports car keeping tabs on him? Now, with a dead body on his hands, it’s time for Trevor to face up to reality, wherever that is…
Given the current obsession with high-impact dieting, Christian Bale should think about marketing his own brand of weight-loss expertise. For this deep-set thriller, lurking somewhere in the hinterlands of the horror genre, the actor has shed so many pounds he’s barely intact. The almighty gulf between the full-pumped vision of American Psycho and this shocking skeletal shadow, just bones and sinew bound together by the translucent parchment of his skin, is enough to throw you into tailspin. What the hell is up with this guy?
The hideous imagery it references, that haunting footage of emaciated Holocaust survivors, all but threatens to tip Brad Anderson’s brute nightmare completely out of whack. But give Bale his due — in a striking physical performance, he gives the film far more than xylophone ribs. The death mask is incidental — it’s his mind where things are truly coming apart.
There’s also the cold imagery to admire, a twilight of metallic hues and stark bathroom floors so drained of primary colour the film almost strays into a ghostly black and white. We’re being presented with a conundrum. Why is this lowly, polite machine operator losing the plot? We’re told he hasn’t slept for a year, and, boy, it looks like it. He has passing sex with kindly hooker Jennifer Jason Leigh and, when we first glimpse him, he’s rolling up a corpse in a carpet. Like a manic-depressive David Lynch, Anderson wants to freak us out, to rattle our own ribcages; we’re only seeing the world through Reznik’s eyes and they’re not to be trusted.
Yet, for all the frozen wastes of his style, Anderson is not a subtle manager of mystery. With not-so-furtive symbolism, he has his sunken character reading Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot to give us a little nudge. Add the presence of Polanski’s The Tenant, Fight Club, Memento and Hitchcock’s psychological leering, and Reznik isn’t the only one suffering déjà vu. A few scenes into the gloom and you’ll have a good idea what is generally up, if not the specifics, making the journey toward the eventual, inevitable twist fairly one-dimensional. It’s a result so painfully logical it would make Lynch’s hair stand on end.
It looks and feels the business, both in Bale's bone-bag of a body and the morphine-dosed-Kubrick vibe, but it's more a tightly wrought slither through pastures old than fresh investigation into the claws of madness.