Identity is a curious thing. Many people spend their entire lives trying to figure out what they want to occupy their time with and who their real friends are. And that’s what people do under normal circumstances, so obviously things get a lot more complicated when you have no memory, have had reconstructive plastic surgery and now have no real idea of who you actually are.
That’s where Iain Softley’s Trap For Cinderella picks up. It begins with Micky (Tuppence Middleton) waking up in a hospital bed covered in third degree burns. She remembers almost nothing of her past life or her accident, which means she’s at the mercy of her Aunt’s assistant (Kerry Fox) to figure out which of her memories are real and which are fabricated. As the story goes on, more and more is leaked to Micky and she recalls her past bit by bit, eventually digging into her fateful friendship with Do (Alexandra Roach).
In a mystery such as this, the number one thing that has to happen is it has to keep you guessing. Once that element of the unknown is lost, there’s really not much of a point to the movie. Unfortunately, for many mediocre movies of this genre, it’s easy to lose that suspense. There’s a very fine line between not giving enough information to keep the audience hooked and giving away so much that it spoils the ending. Most mystery movies that fail do so by falling too far onto either side of that spectrum. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Trap For Cinderella had me on the edge of my seat the entire time, but it certainly kept me guessing, and that on its own qualifies this one as a solid mystery.
It’s Softley’s attention to the details of the story that enable the film to tip-toe that line. He takes care with the flashbacks to keep from revealing too much, but he still gives enough so that there’s no reason to feel cheated. It isn’t as if the de-masking at the end is completely out of a Scooby Doo episode. A savvy viewer will likely be able to see it coming, but that doesn’t mean it’s just slapped onto the screen for everyone to see. It involves skill and wit, and that shows the writing prowess at work.
Unfortunately, sharp writing only refers to the details in this one, not the story as a whole. There’s only so much that can be done with an adaptation without completely reworking the story, and despite Softley’s modernization, it seems Sébastien Japrisot’s Piège pour Cendrillon just doesn’t have enough going on to really capture the mind, at least when adapted for the screen. There are some books that are better left as written word, and it appears Softley has found one of them.
First of all, there’s the glaring lack of motivation for the characters throughout. That’s most evident when it pertains to the decisions leading up to the explosion, as there’s no reason to believe that any of the characters involved have half enough motivation to actually go through with such a scheme. The same can be said about Micky’s determination to keep Do around, even when they hardly speak. Those internal motivations may work when fleshed out in a book, but in a film they’re pretty hard to convey.
The scenes with Do and Micky, which make up the majority of the film, aren’t all that interesting either. It’s a whole lot of Do staring longingly at her wildly attractive friend and then a bunch of other things that only serve to add a heavy layer of melodrama. At first there’s an intrigue brought about by the sexual tension and wild lifestyle, but after that is repeated to no end, those scenes lose all their impact. In the end, it seems their only point is to further expand on Softley’s theme of identity.
I hesitate to call it a Hitchcockian theme since this film is far from that level, but it certainly does have that feel. When the question is raised of whether post-accident Micky is actually who she’s been told, it’s almost as if that potential identity crisis doesn’t matter to the characters. The way Do’s obsessed mind sees it, she’s as much Mickey as she is herself. Through all the melodrama and all the stylized flashback scenes, that theme is still able to shine through, carrying the film past its weaker moments and unifying the whole thing in a way where it’s much stronger than its worst scenes.
Also saving those flashback scenes is the performance of Tuppence Middleton. She absolutely steals the show here, turning in a performance that begs for comparison to much more storied British actresses that’ve come before her. When the story is less than compelling, her performance picks up the slack even further, keeping things taut with a sharp line or a perfect reaction. If for nothing else, this should be watched as a teaser of the bigger things to come for Middleton.
While the story is much more interesting in the scenes set in present-day France, the film is much better to look at when it’s taking place in London. Softley takes an elegant style, tweaks it into something modern, and then infuses it into all the scenes of pre-accident Micky, despite obvious budget restraints. The cinematography fits the mood and the music is exciting, combining for a stark contrast from the more subdued moments of the film.
Still, despite all its strengths, the lack of a complete, compelling story keeps this film from reaching its full potential. The acting is solid, the film is beautiful to look at, and it’ll definitely keep you guessing, but there’s just far too little to the story. It’s a movie about mistaken identity, yet Trap For Cinderella never quite finds its own identity – an identity of being either good or bad. Ultimately, it falls right in the middle of the two as a merely adequate mystery.
TRAP FOR CINDERELLA opens in select theaters and will also be available to watch on Cable VOD, SundanceNOW and other digital outlets (iTunes, Amazon Streaming, PS3 Playstation Unlimited, XBOX Zune, Google PLAY and YouTube) beginning December 13th.
Despite some strong performances and an interesting style, there are just too many holes in the story, keeping Trap For Cinderella from being a completely compelling thriller.