Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"Character is too often, for all the quality of the cast, too heavily sketched, a little too clumsy."

Far into the Indian Ocean, out in the kind of pirate country alluded to by the presence of armed guards on deck, is a boat. Above the boat is a storm. Below the boat are oil pipelines. Above the boat like an octagonal parasite is an empty helipad. Below the boat is Pressure.

This is the CSV Lorimer, belonging to some member of the energy industrial complex, Vaxxilon. It is a diving support vessel, designed to provide umbilical succour to men working at the seabed, in a pressurised diving bell. There is exposition in the film too, delivered with text on the screen, and then a smattering of introductory voiceover. Those feel more heavy-handed than other moments - a bumper sticker in the diving bell does more to illustrate the dangers of diving than almost anything else that comes before it, but that clever bit of staging doesn't have much company.

Copy picture

Somewhere in the middle of this tense four-hander is a cracking play, the close confines of a diving bell providing pressure, that pressure providing character. Character is too often, for all the quality of the cast, too heavily sketched, a little too clumsy.

Danny Huston is Engel, apparently conflicted, possessed of a particular professionalism that manifests as a pragmatic unflappability. Matthew Goode (fresh from The Imitation Game if one ignores his various TV turns) is Mitchell, more character than perhaps intended sketched by the presence of two bibles on his desk. Alan McKenna is Hurst, exactly as much character drawn by the bottle of whisky as one would expect, and Joe Cole is Jones, drawn with the broad strokes of a photograph of a young wife and new baby and hair gel.

There are others in the cast, enough to generate the circumstance that consigns these four men to a little steel bubble deep down in the dark. The quartet acquit themselves well in the tight confines of the set, better in the constraints of a script that takes a relatively unique set of circumstances and constructs a relatively pedestrian drama. There are three credited writers, including McKenna, a debut feature for each of them, and it's almost a rule that the more writers a film has the more troubled it seems. Ron Scalpello directs, a second feature for him after 2012's "offender" which also featured Joe Cole.

The loneliness of life in the inky blackness recalls moments of Under The Skin more than the benthic bombast of The Abyss. There are moments of cruel irony, the flickering lights of the subsea structure reach dimly into the unblinking expanse. An inky forever punctuated only by the soothing green glow of the 'Exit' sign, of the LEDs around a living room television - which is why this might work better as a play, with the absolute control of space that might be afforded at a more human level of drama.

It's not bad, but it shows potential unrealised. Huston can excel at the minimal, he's got a brow designed to convey torment, but even in flashback there's a detachment. The rest of the cast hold their own, and at a technical level there's a lot to be praised. The co-operation of the National Hyperbaric Centre tells - the reactions to the physical pressure are well handled, helping to build the emotional pressure too. There's an aside to be made regarding co-operation from offshore firms, two vessels (Bibby Topaz and CSV Grand Canyon) are credited, but the depiction of their industry is much less kind than that afforded by Captain Phillips when that production got to borrow some boats from the US Navy. The mercenary (and the term is used advisably) nature of the firm, the extent to which the self-interest of others is injected, builds to say something about the ties of trust that everyone relies on, though perhaps not quite so literally as the bell's life-giving umbilical.

For all that it's predicated upon an extreme environment only made somewhat surviveable by hyperbaric paraphenalia, it falls back to being a story of men in desperate circumstances wrestling with conscience and each other as much as environment. It's not Twelve Angry Men by way of Apollo 13, nor perhaps could it be, but it does tend to stereotype and doesn't do enough to escape them. The peril of their circumstance is well illustrated, but occasionally clumsily exposited. It still satisfies, but it never overwhelms, and that's a shame - as a short it could perhaps have focused on a handful of decisions - as a feature it doesn't do enough to make the waiting weighty. Pressure is unlikely to be crushed by weight of expectations - it's a small feature with a credible cast - but it also doesn't pull itself together quite enough to coalesce into something special.

Reviewed on: 11 Mar 2015
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Pressure packshot
Four divers are trapped together in their diving bell at the bottom of the ocean.
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Director: Ron Scalpello

Writer: Louis Baxter, Alan McKenna, Paul Staheli

Starring: Danny Huston, Matthew Goode, Joe Cole

Year: 2014

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2015

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