Film Review – Trunk: Locked In
Trunk: Locked In
Deep within the vast confines of the streaming landscape is a German-language thriller that offers a bit more flair than we would suspect. Trunk: Locked In (2023) is a tense and visually flashy crime story. That’s saying a lot, given that it takes place almost exclusively within the trunk of a car. Writer/director Marc Schießer (in his feature length debut) adds plenty of intrigue and suspense despite the limited space. Much in the same way Buried (2010) and Phone Booth (2002) placed their protagonists in cramped quarters, Trunk uses its premise as a benefit and not a hindrance. Sometimes, artists use creative ways to work around a smaller canvas. While this may not take the crime genre to new heights, there’s enough here to make it worth a watch.
The plot takes off right away. Malina (Sina Martens) awakens already in the back of a car. The trunk is open, but Malina has been mysteriously drugged, causing her to go limp from the waist down. Before she can gain her bearings, a nameless Driver (Poal Cairo) shuts the trunk closed, trapping her inside. The car takes off towards an unknown destination. Malina takes note of her predicament, trying to find any means of escape and gathering whatever supplies are inside with her. Her lifeline is her cell phone, which she uses to call friends, family, and authorities – anyone that could possibly locate and rescue her. In a bit of storytelling convenience, her GoPro camera is also nearby, which provides some background character information. We learn that before her kidnapping, Malina was set to go on a long-distance trip with her lover, Enno (Artjom Gilz).
Is Malina being taken because she is the target of a secret plot, or was this a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Schießer’s script keeps things going at an even clip, peeling back layer after layer with each phone call or text message. Some of Malina’s interactions make her feel helpless (her own sister thinks her pleas for help are a prank), other times they become the central point of tension. This is best shown with the emergency response operator, Elisa (Luise Helm). Elisa is one of the few people who takes Malina seriously and tries her best to send help her way. Although we only hear Elise’s voice, her back and forth with Malina make for some of the better dramatic exchanges. Martens and Helm play off one another effectively, even though they are not seen together on screen.
One of Trunks’ bigger surprises is how physically grueling it is. Yes, being cramped in such a small location will obviously take a toll on someone’s body, but in this instance Malina is put through the wringer. She gets tossed around like a pinball as the Driver steps on the gas pedal. He turns up the radio to drown out her cries for help. Malina gets bloodied, bruised, and mangled. The fact that she suffered wounds before being placed in the trunk adds an entire layer of danger. There’s a body horror-like tone in the physical torment. The cinematography (Daniel Ernst, Tui Lohf) peers in on Malina’s distraught face and raw injuries. Red is an ever-present color (due to the car’s brake lights), which amplifies the sense of pain Malina goes through. In one gruesome sequence, she goes through a very graphic stretch that causes her to vomit. We can only imagine the kind of smells that are lingering in there.
Stylistically, Schießer and the rest of the production enact a hyperkinetic, free-wheeling approach. It’s almost as though they tried to keep things interesting by never letting the camera settle in one place. Where Malina is limited in how she can move her body, the cinematography is not. The frame moves in, out, up and down in all sorts of directions – from inside the trunk to fully outside of the car. Dramatic conversations are accompanied by unbroken tracking shots that go around Malina in circles. Moments of shock or revelation are punctuated by snap/crash zooms, and the lighting will go into a strobe like effect to augment the mounting dread. The editing is in constant hyperdrive, jumping from one angle to another like hot potatoes. The cinematic gymnastics are reminiscent of early David Fincher, or music videos from the late ’90s and early 2000s. The special effects (notably CGI) make the trunk space feel much bigger. In fact, I was never quite sure how big or small that space actually was. Sina Martens’ performance made me think it was like a coffin, but the visual trickery made it seem as big as an average hotel room.
The narrative starts strong, but as the runtime progresses, we notice the weaknesses in the writing seeping through. Malina is set up as a smart and resourceful character (we discover that she was once a medical professional), but the further we go along the more she acts out irrationally. Granted, if we were ever put in that position, who knows how any of us would act? However, Malina’s transition from one side of the spectrum to the other was abrupt. Although the film should be commended for focusing on character development, the way its shoehorned into the narrative doesn’t sit right. Having Malina go through deep, meaningful conversations while being held hostage was clumsy. With limited phone battery, shouldn’t she stick to finding a way out?
Trunk: Locked In works better as a visceral experience rather than a logical one. Once we start thinking about how all the pieces fit, the overall picture doesn’t hold up quite as well. There’s a lot to admire here, and Schießer shows plenty of promise as a storyteller. While I’m lukewarm at the final result, there’s plenty of talent on display to make something great later down the road.