On paper, 'Caught Inside,' the debut feature from Australian director Adam Blaiklock, may sound like any number of other location-based thrillers: A group of blokes decide to charter a private boat and take a leave-your-girlfriend-at-home surfing vacation to a remote island. However, things are complicated when one of the boyfriends brings along his girlfriend and her flirty gal pal, Sam (Daisy Betts). Isolated deep in the ocean, hours from anyone of authority, one of the men on the boat grows obsessed with Sam and will do anything to have her.
In practice, 'Caught Inside' is an increasingly heated pressure cooker of a thriller; one that impresses with restraint and a disarming lack of malice. It's easy to imagine that a film with this premise, especially one hailing from a country that has been pumping out some fairly savage horror movies of late, will devolve into a waterborne slasher, but that's not the case here. And in addition to a smooth understanding of pace and structure, Blaiklock's film boasts an integral ingredient that most thrillers lack: realism.
No one acts out of character. The fight scenes aren't elaborate or overly choreographed. There are no twists or logic-defying turns. This is a simple story of how actual people would react to a man becoming a beast before their very eyes. None of the other men on the boat are physically threatening enough to keep him in check, making their attempts to protect Sam from (the appropriately named) Bull all the more dire. Combine that with understated camera work that allows the beautiful ocean views to speak for themselves and you've got an invigorating thriller whose sensibilities are more in tune with those made twenty years ago instead of the slick, hyper thrillers that dominate the genre these days.
And as reliable as the entire cast is, the real standout of 'Caught Inside' is its muscled menace, Ben Oxenbould (of the sorely under-seen killer croc flick, 'Black Water'). Anyone with a brutish build can be intimidating when placed next to a man or woman of average build, but Oxenbould's performance is so plausibly unhinged that it calls to mind some of the greater loose cannons of cinema. This is De Niro in 'Raging Bull' or Mitchum in 'Cape Fear' territory-- a tall comparison, yes, and his character isn't nearly as defined as either of those, but his descent into full-blown nightmare is as memorable all the same.
If Blaiklock's film has any downside to it, is that its refrained temperament makes it a glass half-empty/half-full kind of audience divider. On the half-empty side, its uncomplicated plot and lack of any extreme shocks may render it a bit too mundane. On the half-full side, its back-to-basics approach is a refreshing glass of "God, I hope that never happens to me." Regardless of how you feel about the film as a whole, though, Oxenbould is difficult to forget.