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Caspar Phillipson

THE GIRL IN THE TRUNK

(SUNRISE FILMS/VERTIGO RELEASING/LONE TOWER VISIONS/A BIGGER BOAT/ROUNOW PRODUCTIONS (90 minutes; Unrated); 2024)

One of the things I love about movies is the chance to experience something from a unique point of view, to live vicariously through a character’s actions, and maybe wonder if you’d behave in a similar manner or completely differently given their challenges in the story. There are so MANY movies out there, of course, that they tend to fall to well-worn tropes of plot development to hold your interest, and that can be tedious. I tend to really like films that show you characters in trapped situations, and to hold your interest by how they build the drama and suspense. A film I reviewed for ZM a couple of years ago was focused entirely on a young pregnant woman trapped in her car on a mountainside in a serious car accident. It was incredibly suspenseful, and when it turned into a horror film in the last half hour, the shocks were well earned. But I’m here right now to talk about THE GIRL IN THE TRUNK, a fairly ingenious little thriller that makes the most of its singular premise. Almost the entire movie consists of the plight and actions of a woman named Amanda Jennings (Katharina Sporrer) who has been kidnapped by an unknown baddie and tossed into the trunk of her rental car. We see a simple shot of her high heel shoes as she unsuccessfully tries to return the car at the film’s beginning, then the furtive actions of a stranger as he quietly gets in that same car without her seeing him. And next we are right in the trunk with her, her hands and mouth taped, trying to figure out what the fuck happened. Amanda has her cell phone, and that becomes absolutely central to the unfolding events. She is wearing a long white wedding dress, and she is a feisty, determined gal who manages to get the tape off her mouth and to call 911 on her phone. The detached sounding male operator asks her a series of increasingly annoying questions, including her location, to which she can only answer “somewhere north of Houston.” When she complains about his questions – after all she can’t give much info being trapped in the trunk of a car – he says “You’re under a lot of stress. but we’re doing all we can.” In the first of many small twists, it turns out the operator is, in fact, her kidnapper, She’s in the trunk and he’s the driver, and their “relationship” is going to evolve through a subsequent series of phone chats.

THE GIRL IN THE TRUNK (KATHARINA SPORRER) (Screen Shot)

So that’s the basic premise, and I gotta say, writer/director Jonas Kvist Jensen does an impressive job of giving us the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck in the trunk of a car, trying to figure out what to do. There isn’t much light, true, but Amanda finds a tool in the trunk that she uses first to poke a hole big enough to see out the back (ingeniously, this allows us to see what happens a few times when the kidnapper stops the car), and later to create an opening through which she can see the driver. In a good example of how cell phones can be used to help move a modern story along, Amanda even manages to snap a photo of her captor, who we’ll soon learn is an ordinary looking, middle-aged white guy named Michael Bellrose (Caspar Phillipson). I don’t think it’s necessary to spill every plot element here, as I think you SHOULD see this movie. But through a series of “games” and tense phone exchanges, we learn that Amanda is a runaway bride, that she and Bellrose have a connection to the same bank, and that getting ahold of her father on the phone turns out to be a key development. Bellrose’s intentions towards Amanda are a bit hazy, but he’s a seriously malevolent dude. When a good samaritan approaches the car offering to help Bellerose with something, the situation goes south in a hurry. And to my knowledge, this is the first cinematic example of a murder being shown to us via a hole in the trunk of a car. Generating even MORE suspense is when our psycho kidnapper tells Amanda she’s going to have company soon, and he slips a scorpion into the trunk through the main opening. This is filmed extremely well, with the critter crawling all over her and her having to maintain the kind of absolute cool that you or I likely would NOT possess. Scenes of this nature in so MANY films can be tiring and insulting to one’s intelligence. Here, it is a marvel of suspenseful pacing, and I wanted to cheer over Amanda’s believable actions. I also loved what happens when a good-natured female police officer stops the car and has a normal-seeming chat with Bellrose. Amanda has to listen to the dialogue without yelling out and risking her life. You’ll THINK you know how this scene is going to turn out, but trust me, you’ll be surprised. Some real thought went into this script and the necessity of getting from “point A” to “point B.” And if you are tired of thrillers and horror films where women either act stupidly or simply act as helpless victims, you’ll enjoy the plucky, sarcastic manner of the heroine here, and how she does her best to one-up the kidnapper mostly through dialogue. At most turns, this film avoids the obvious, which greatly impressed me. And whereas in the typical horror film (and THE GIRL IN THE TRUNK is ostensibly in that category) you’ll have to endure either an unpleasant or simply unbelievable ending, this cool little movie has a solid conclusion, almost cheer-worthy in fact. I found myself amazed at the end, and that doesn’t happen very often.

THE GIRL IN THE TRUNK (CASPAR PHILLIPSON) (Screen Shot)

My only criticism, and it’s basically a small one, is that while Sporrer is clearly a talented actress, her character rarely shows the kind of fear and vulnerability that I would think most women would display in her circumstances. She’s in a clearly desperate situation, and may very well be facing the end of her life, yet she always acts with confidence and resolve. It’s refreshing in a way, but wouldn’t it be more authentic if she lost her cool a couple of times? The “game” that Bellerose keeps her locked into, unwillingly, reveals her to be a more than capable opponent. And Phillipson is definitely a credible baddie, a blandly ordinary creep who insists he is “not really a violent man.” There’s a discernible vulnerability to him that again is somewhat refreshing, and the ongoing dialogue between him and our heroine is fast moving and full of interesting quirks. But overall, this movie is Jensen’s show; he deserves the bulk of the credit for how well this movie works as the writer and director, and I can’t imagine that many other films will be made that so successfully utilize the cramped trunk of a car the way this one does. So thumbs up from me on this surprising little thriller. It’s not flashy, and it’s mostly free of jump scares and the typical bloody violence inherent in this genre. But THE GIRL IN THE TRUNK is a minor miracle, a film that takes one of the most terrifying scenarios any woman could imagine and turns it into something riveting and even thoughtful. This movie beats the odds consistently for films of this nature, and I can only be grateful as a viewer.