It’s an odd job working security, a lifetime spent in the background watching the crowd. If something does occur, there’s likely to be so much chaos no one will notice their contribution anyway. Matthias Schoenaerts, the Belgian actor built like a tank, perpetually in danger of bursting out of his own torso, steps into such a role in Maryland, the second feature from talented French director Alice Winocour. Screening in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, it’s a taut and atmospheric thriller, stylishly made and let down only by a questionable ending that casts doubts on the central pairing.
Schoenaerts is damaged solider Vincent. Unable to adjust to a return from the front line, he finds his hearing in decline and his hands permanently jittery. With his military career falling away, he takes a temporary job working security at a party held by a wealthy Lebanese businessman. While there, he finds himself drawn to the businessman’s wife Jessie (Diane Kruger), evidently making an impression himself. He’s handed the opportunity to babysit Jessie and her son one weekend, a job he takes all too seriously.
Paranoid and on the verge of collapse, the first half of Winocour’s film is a Rear Window style thriller that finds a broken solider spotting danger in every gust of wind. Dangerously wired he drives like a madman away from a perceived threat, terrifying mother and child in the back. When he finally comes to a halt, he’s a sweaty mess forced to vacate the driver’s seat. As he keeps watch he grows increasingly attached to Jessie. Barely able to keep his eyes from her, he retreats to the safety of the security room to follow her on CCTV cameras.
Winocour plays with this intriguing set-up confidently, belying her relative inexperience behind the camera. She also has greater ambitions for the second half of her story, exploding the film into life as Maryland is overcome by tense home invader horror. Not averse to flashes of sudden violence, for the most part fear is drawn out in the build-up. There are a number of spine-tingling sequences near the end that hang heavy with threat. Although it’s clear someone is going to get hurt, it’s far from obvious who.
While all this is going on, the characters are neglected, left to stand on relationships that have no grounding in the events of the film. Schoenaerts and Kruger lack chemistry making it hard to see them as a viable match. This steals back some of the tension so painstakingly created. The ending goes one step further, undermining the majority of their interactions.
The film remains an enjoyable edge of the seat experience, the weaknesses in characterisation unable to do too much damage to the hard-won dread encasing the story. Winocour also has an eye for shot composition, and a good ear for musical choices continuing to mark her out as one to watch. Maryland is nothing more than a decent little thriller, but nothing less either.
Director: Alice Winocour
Stars: Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger, Paul Hamy
Runtime: 101 mins
Country: France, Belgium
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