By Pirjo Leek
Director: Harry Patramanis
The thrill of rebellion
Fynbos is an enigmatically atmospheric thriller which effectively defies the rules of storytelling. The mystery-filled plot seems to propel the film towards the trodden thriller path which Fynbos is determined to avoid. Instead, the intriguingly sparse sound design and magnificent cinematography portraying the South African heathlands known as “fynbos” make it a contemplative ode to silence, emptiness and lack of meaning.
The film begins with one of the main characters, Meryl (Jessica Haines) throwing her bag and documents into a bin near a South African slum and subsequently calling the police to report a robbery. In the police station, she starts writing in her diary and a portrait of an abused and cornered wife is created. It turns out the relationship between the married couple is frosty, but the allegations of abuse are never rejected or confirmed. The captivating first scenes paint a portrait of Amy Dunne from Gone Girl in Africa, but the longed-for satisfaction of “what actually happened” is never given. Fynbos is not about the thrills of revelations.
The next day, Meryl and her real estate developer husband take off to stay in a glass box of a house in a gated community which he is desperate to sell. The two and the owner’s hippie son and his girlfriend who are also staying in the house are joined by a prospective buyer and her brother from the UK. A frustrated wife, a desperate husband, an open-minded couple and rich related foreigners in an enclosed modern house sounds like an explosive chamber piece waiting to happen. However, the tension between the people never materialises and the human contact never becomes more than skin-deep. The emotionless and disjointed delivery reminiscent of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster accentuates the egoism of the characters. No backstories are revealed, no drama thrives from the relationships between the characters. Tension stemming from the feeble matters of the heart is another dead end which Fynbos toys with but never succumbs to. As the husband Richard (Warrick Grier) aptly points out, “I’m getting whiplash from your f****** mood swings”.
The real stars of Fynbos are the nature and sounds in the movie. Differently from the characters who constantly and consciously never live up to the expectations and character paths carefully chiselled by Hollywood, the sound and landscapes are captured with an astute eye for unsettling atmosphere. The uncomfortably long pauses and emphasis on the almost unnoticeable sounds in our lives create a void of meaning which is reiterated by the sweeping shots of the vast and beautiful fynbos landscapes. The grating eerie feeling created by the sound and visuals makes Meryl’s mysterious disappearance, which is tackled with similarly little rhyme or reason as the rest of the storyline, the momentous plot twist it is supposed to be.
Fynbos is a raw thriller which enchants the audience’s senses with its breath-taking cinematography and astute sound design. The plot teases the audience with different genre conventions without ever living up to the trodden ways of filmmaking. It never gives you what you expect or think you want, which becomes strangely liberating after you let go of your initial qualms about uncertainty. It takes courage not to materialise all the climaxes, carefully mould the dialogue to include only clues and tie up all the loose ends in a thriller. There is a certain charm about concentrating on the pace and atmosphere to rebel against the cookie-cutter narrative arc.
Watch Fynbos on FilmDoo.com from Friday the 30th September.