Can a film make you seasick? Back in 2008, punters in screenings of Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield reported feelings of motion sickness induced by the film’s handheld camerawork. Others find 3D films, like the recent re-release of James Cameron’s Avatar, tough on the stomach. One can only imagine what 4DX does to a sensitive intestine. And yet it seems nothing so far has captured that particular feeling of being two pints-deep on an overcrowded ferry, convinced the waves battering the ship will never end and regretting the Chicken Legend you scarfed down before leaving Liverpool quite like the real thing.
Do you know what’ll make a pretty good approximation, though? Watching people projectile-vomit into a camera lens for twenty minutes, that’s what.
Triangle of Sadness, director Ruben Östlund’s second Palme d’Or-winning film after 2017’s The Square, makes landing at the London Film Festival this Tuesday and follows hot modelling couple Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean) as they navigate the world of high-fashion and find themselves on an uber-exclusive superyacht for the super-rich. As the promised bout of seasickness might suggest, they don’t have the best time, and soon our duo find themselves stranded on a remote island with only their new friends and their money to help them.
It’s a lot to fit into one film, and Östlund’s picture is nothing if not ambitious. Skewering everything from English arms dealers to who pays the bill on a date, the director alternates between biting wit and crude satire at the drop of a hat. Much of it lands, and if nothing else, Triangle of Sadness might boast some of the best physical comedy of this festival season. The film knows how to set up a good joke. The problems start when it doesn’t know when to stop.
That’s because Triangle of Sadness has a pacing problem. Every joke is stretched to its absolute limit, and plenty goes beyond it. In isolation, this might work in the film’s favour, but in practice, it slows the whole thing to a glacial crawl, not helped by a three-chapter structure that feels too much like three different films bustled into one. First, it tries to explore the unpleasantries of the fashion industry. Then it takes a few jabs at modern feminism, then the super-rich, and so on and so on. There are so many ideas here, but they’re all explored (ironically, given what the film has to say about models) at a surface level, rarely adding anything new to the conversation and often outstaying their welcome.
Perhaps it’s because the uber-rich is a bit of a broad church that most of the attempted satire falls flat. When the targets have little depth to their characters and little in common except a gross amount of wealth, the film never feels like it has much to say beyond pointing and shouting, “this is bad!” at things which are, self-evidently, terrible. The jabs work best when Östlund slips back into a genuinely entertaining farce, letting the satirical undercurrent bubble beneath the surface. However, this restraint never lasts long, and a character quickly picks up a microphone and explains the film’s political leanings in case anyone misses the message (this happens twice).
But for a film which seems to be trying so hard to provoke a strong reaction, the worst thing one can say about Triangle of Sadness is that it’s… fine? It’s handsomely shot, boasts central solid performances from Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean, and even the regurgitative set-piece in the middle is undoubtedly well-made. But all these good elements do not a great movie make, and Östlund’s latest offering, like the end-product of a bout of seasickness, totals far less than the sum of its parts.
Triangle of Sadness premieres at BFI London Film Festival on October 11 and is released in cinemas on October 28.