May 31, 2019
It’s Friday, so that means it’s time for another Fantastic Fest feature from our good friend Andrew Campbell. Really hoping today’s film pulls him out of the depression that comes from a lackluster follow up from a beloved director in last week’s “Under the Silver Lake” (Episode #494). Today’s film is also our first film from the United Arab Emirates, who were only tangentially involved with “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (Episode #082), and our first from the Kingdom of Jordan. And judging from the score, seems like today’s film was just the thing for Andrew.
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Here we go!
Hello film fans!
Andrew here - back this week with a crime thriller imported from the United Arab Emirates. Never seen a film from the UAE? Can’t even name one? Me neither and you could do a lot worse than making this your first. A big part of Fantastic Fest, and the reason for my weekly reviews here on One Movie Punch, is about broadening my horizons. The festival’s film curators do an incredible job sourcing films the world over, selecting the very best, and persuading them to premiere at a 9-room theater secreted behind an apartment building in south Austin. If my review scores are generally pretty high, it’s because they provide so many great films to choose from.
Today’s movie is “Rattle the Cage”, a mysterious single-location thriller written for the screen by Lane and Ruckus Skye, and directed by Majid Al Ansari. “Rattle the Cage” made its world premiere at the 2015 Fantastic Fest as “Zinzana” (Arabic for “cage”) before premiering on Netflix the following year. “Rattle the Cage” sprints out of the gate with our protagonist Talal (Saleh Bakri) waking up in a dusty jailhouse, having been in a bar brawl the night before. After the man with whom he had the altercation is bailed out of the neighboring cell, Talal converses with his jailer, and convinces the man to allow Talal to place a call to his ex-wife, giving us a glimpse into his life. At the stroke of noon, an officer from another town, Dabaan (Ali Suliman), pays a call to the jailhouse. Dabaan is a frenetic wildcard, who looks a lot like Sacha Baron Cohen and could almost be one his characters. With Dabaan’s arrival, the day is about to go off the rails.
“Rattle the Cage” puts forth a cat-and-mouse game told through a black comedy. Dabaan is a sociopath who oscillates between brutal violence and being a charming conman. Opposite Dabaan, Saleh Bakri is electric in the lead role, and the opposing tones of these two men are what keep this film so exciting. The film sets up this dichotomy pretty early on and leaves the viewer with no real clues as to where the story is going. The only thing that is clear is that the camera is never leaving this jailhouse and the fact the story remains so unpredictable and tension-filled means that it ranks with some of the best single-setting films out there.
My only minor criticism of the film is that the side characters that come and go are a bit flat compared to the two contrasted leads. The film feels sort of like a play or an old-school sitcom where the script simply swaps in and out whoever is needed to make a scene work. It can feel a little manufactured, but what works in this case is that we are held prisoner along with Talal, in the dark and picking up the clues at the same time he does.
What makes “Rattle the Cage” fantastic?
Behind the gimmicky premise and one really memorable character is a tight suspense film that keeps its cards close to the vest until the very end. Even though it’s a clear good guy / bad guy tale, and we feel like we know who is going to win in the end, the path we take to get there is never dull. The climactic moment actually drew an audible cheer from me, which almost never happens when I watch a film alone.
“Rattle the Cage” (2015) is a biting thriller, one that could benefit from a low-budget English remake if they can cast the two lead roles well. Fans of cat-and-mouse mystery stories like Silence of the Lambs or The Usual Suspects will enjoy this film; as will those who appreciate a movie with a smiling, sadistic villain on par with the Inglorious Basterds’ Hans Landa.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 8.6/10
“Rattle the Cage” (2015) is not rated and is currently streaming on Netflix.
Speaking of Netflix, come back next week and we’ll discuss Netflix-acquisition “The Perfection”, a 2018 Fantastic Fest world premiere about a pair of cello prodigies that goes to some shocking extremes. Allison Williams’ last film role was a devious performance in 2017’s “Get Out” and I’m excited to see what she can bring to another horror film. I’ll see you then.