While the idea of four childhood friends retreating to a messed up weekend in cottage country might sound like the set up for a dull slasher film at best and a remake of the notorious Stephen King misstep Dreamcatcher at worst, the Canadian indie horror The Corridor (currently on VOD all over Canada and in select US cities this weekend) stands on its own as a cracking character study and genuinely ambitious psychodrama about the shared effects of mental illness on even the best of friends.
After witnessing the death of his mother and suffering a psychotic break, Tyler Crowley (Stephen Chambers) gets released almost directly from the mental hospital into the care of his best friends who think some time away at his childhood cottage in the dead of winter would bring his weary mind some peace. While alpha-male Everette (James Gilbert), aging jock Bobby (Matthew Annyotte), wimpy wannabe family man Jim (Glen Matthews), and best friend Chris (David Patrick Flemming) all anticipate a bro-down weekend to remember, Tyler remains reserved and fragile, simply wanting to stay sober and be left alone no matter how much the guys try to help him.
While finally getting the chances to scatter his mother’s ashes, Tyler stumbles upon a forcefield-like rectangle lined up with a radio tower that offers all that enter it clarity. When the friends realize that Tyler isn’t in fact making the structure up (or is he?!?), they all gradually begin to go mad, leaving Tyler as the last voice of sanity and reason.
To call writer Josh MacDonald and director Evan Kelly’s film a slow burn would be too much of back handed compliment. For a thriller, there isn’t too much gore and there isn’t a single jump scare in sight, with things gradually escalating in creepiness before suddenly snapping to life just after the midway point. What makes the film so novel is just how much time McDonald and Kelly allow the actors to flesh out their characters. Not a single one of them are just a checklist of attributes. These are some deeply troubled people with a lot of personal baggage that needs to be meted out carefully in order for the film to work, and the cast doesn’t have a single weak link. These people are believable as both friends and enemies equally, while remaining mostly sympathetic in the eyes of the audience.
Chambers obviously puts in most of the heavy lifting here, always cognisant of not making Tyler too stereotypically jittery and making him more depressed than intense. Gilbert and Annyotte get their chances to be frightening, and Matthews and Flemming do fine work as the friends often caught in the middle of any rotten situation their clique finds themselves in.
Kelly displays a great eye for visuals and the technical credits are pretty great for a low budget flick from Nova Scotia. The snowy landscapes add a necessary chill to the tension, and the production designer that didn’t turn the cabin in the woods into just another stick cliché could be commended. Things start to come a little off the rails with a special effects heavy final five minutes, but the ambition of what’s being said at the end of the film about the bonds of brotherhood and masculinity are too ambitious to ever be dismissed. At any rate, The Corridor makes me not want to go on any camping trips any time soon.