Review by Mark Schwab
A mostly blank room, a pretty young woman held captive in said room via having her leg tendons severed. Said woman's memory has been wiped clean and a strange man controls her fate. Another entry in the endless SAW franchise? Thankfully...not at all. With Edward Palmer's surprisingly fresh take on the old idea (going all the way back to William Wyler's 1965 THE COLLECTOR), his indie film HIPPOPOTAMUS impressively proves there is still plenty life in this genre and the less you know going into it...all the better.
Our woman in peril is Ruby (Ingvild Deila) and her menacing captor is Tom (Stuart Mortimer). Tom spells out his agenda to Ruby right from the start; she will be trapped until he falls in love with her. Ruby's legs are out of commission, they are miles from any type of civilization and she is required to take pills every day. Tom controls her meals, when she sleeps and when she eats. He also occasionally brings in objects for her to interact with - like a book - saying it will slowly bring her memory back. Although there are a few secondary characters, almost the entire movie consists of Tom and Ruby engaged in psychological combat in a single room as the onion of truth slowly gets peeled back. Is it enough to keep an audience engaged?
The answer is a resounding YES. Beyond the usual formalities - the cinematography, production design and sound design are expertly handled - Palmer's script is shockingly intelligent for this type of film. This is a true psychological mind screw without silly twists and sloppy torture gore - with a very good conclusion that doesn't so much upend everything you've just viewed but instead actually brings more layers into focus about what you've seen.
Also, Deila and Mortimer as Ruby and Tom are just perfect in their characterizations. Not one false note or scenery-chewing hysterics. Especially Deila who reminded me of Naomi Watts' best work. If you think you've seen it all regarding the woman-in-captive plot, then get ready for Edward Palmer's sharply directed HIPPOPOTAMUS (yes, that title is perfect - you'll see). I guarantee it will ensnare your expectations and make you forget all the mediocre movies that came before it.