FILM REVIEW- Trafficked (2015): Hits You Right In the Feels

GENRE: Drama/Thriller

DIRECTOR: Sean Hodgkinson

STARRING: Kia Rollock, Gyerlini Clarke, Aaron N. Charles with Brett Bengochea, Abdi Waithe, Brendon O’Brien and Thalia Baptiste

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From Garth St. Clair’s cautionary advice to the audience, “this is a lesson in what not to do” to the “Cuatro Man” discreetly sitting in the theatre, casually strumming along to loud shuffling, hustling and fussing, the scene is set for the imminent 71 minutes IMAX screening of Trafficked.

It starts and we’re glued like we’ve never seen a movie screen of this magnanimity before when really it’s just the novelty of seeing people that walk, talk and look like us that draws in even a wandering Trinidadian mind. It has happened to me before however, with 1975’s “BIM” and even the recent “God Loves The Fighter” but those two simply represent a bigger industry breaking new ground that perhaps the general public isn’t very aware of.  So as new ground is breaking, out comes forth director/writer Sean Hodgkinson of Quirky Films in collaboration with Eye on Dependency and the late Marcia Henville bringing stifled social issues to the forefront in this crime drama/thriller.

I remember seeing the trailer for this film and thinking, “gotta see this” and now that it’s won this year’s award  for “Best Local Feature” at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, my curiousity’s peaked even more. From the get-go I can tell that director, Sean Hodgkinson has definitely come a long way from “A Story About Wendy” in 2012. This movie is refreshingly different.

We’re introduced to three friends, Penny (Gyerlini Clarke), Nadia (Kia Rollock) and George (Aaron Charles) in their somewhat shabby hotel/motel room getting ready to tour an unnamed Spanish getaway island with the help of a hired tour guide. Their chemistry is evident. The writing thrives on our charming, quirky Trini wit and sarcasm appreciated by members of the audience who occasionally burst into loud peals of laughter.

Then he comes along…the sexy Spanish stranger, Alejandro (Brett Bengochea) who captures the interest of the clichéd “man-hungry” Penny. After Alejandro saves Penny and Nadia from two admittedly scary goons in an implausible fight, the three friends go back to his place where they’re enticed by his wealth and wile but they’re yet to realize that they’re about to pay a hefty price for the luxury of a few grapes and a pool of chlorinated water.

The “Cuatro Man” gets it right though. The musical theme of the movie centres around the beguile of the guitar composed by Phillip and Daz Cartar of “The Cartars” set to engaging sights and scenes. It’s beautiful and if I could I would buy the score. It highlights the twists and the turns, the strengths and the sweetness. Cinematographer, Anthony Fung gives us varied pictures that arrest our attention and create a lasting impression, all of which compliments Hodgkinson’s script effortlessly. In the execution of the plot however, it would’ve been more riveting to let the audience see and experience the real dangers of being trafficked instead of alluding to it with a “take a peek and close the door” technique. It begins to bore a little, especially with an airport scene that fails to convince due to it’s lack of intensity but eventually picks up in the final moments when transported back to Trinidad.

For the first half or so the actors move with a fluidity on screen, especially George in a typical “sweet man” complex of hoeing around while waiting for the wrong girl and Nadia, the “odd one out” in the form of the paranoid ‘big’ girl on whom my eyes were transfixed. George gives us a run for our money when he surprisingly castigates Penny for snuggling up to Alejandro who operates with an airy ease characteristic of most secluded schemers.

Then we get to the second half when the film finally reveals the duality of Alejandro’s character who seems to set off a not so gripping chain of events. Alejandro doesn’t tap into our deep-seated fears, crucial to taking us forward moment to moment with the film. So the overall strength in the performance wanes. The three main actors aren’t able to take us through emotionally as they couldn’t seem to take on the gravitas needed to switch from fun in the sun to drugs and guns and in so doing whitewashing it with a bland look of sadness and conjured up fear. The wait for blood and tears is finally paid for in approximately the last 10 to 5 minutes of the movie with the entrance of Leroy (Abdi Waithe), the Trinidadian link in the cocaine trade. Leroy manages to find a sick humour in this, treating it as quite a normal and even professional activity till the most important rule of “doh get a Trini vex” is broken and the true griminess of the situation is unveiled. The camera encapsulates this undisclosed reality with it’s final shot of Penny’s face. Although the ending definitely churned my insides, the climax would’ve been more gratifying if the emotion steadily built to that point and then perhaps I might’ve even froze in my seat.

All in all, “Trafficked” is definitely a must-see movie, especially as it highlights a closeted social issue pertinent to Trinidad and Tobago. Plus it hits you right in the feels at some point which is important to getting across the message with a good blend of witty Trini banter to flavour the pot.

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