In thinking about this movie it's worth remembering two great thrillers from the past. One is Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo". In that film the first two scenes in the movie, following the rooftop chase, are major scenes that arm you with everything you need to figure out what's REALLY going on later in the story. They're loaded with information. Trouble is, those scenes are likely to glide right by the viewer, as they did with me, because much of what happens seems inconsequential. It's not. The clues are all there. In Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" the peeping tom-for-hire (Gene Hackman), spying on a couple, is certain he's figured out what's going on, but he's undone by not realizing that something said can have different meanings depending on HOW it's said.
"A Perfect Getaway" merrily leads you down the garden path, so to speak, by fulfilling all your expectations, then turning the table on them. You're practically tripping over the clues, but because you're looking at the wrong things or looking at things the wrong way you might miss them. This movie is so smart, so well-made and such a tease that it's absolutely exhilarating. No, I didn't see what was coming, but I was having fun and I felt safe in writer/director David Twohy's hands - I sensed that he wouldn't let me down. (I'm a big fan of Twohy's delightful 1996 science-fiction thriller "The Arrival"). This movie is as much a psychological thriller as the two movies I mentioned off the top and is as seemingly slow-moving and deliberately-paced, but it requires the audience's full attention. The climax is a wild ride, with inspired editing and camera-work, and the flashback sequence is a remarkable piece of exposition. The movie, thankfully, is NOT a slasher flick. The story is mostly character-driven. It's about a murderous couple on the loose in Hawaii slicing up innocent honeymooners, but what really drives the story is the competition between the leading males, two bulls locking horns - Steve Zahn's pitifully inadequate doofus versus Timothy Olyphant's macho and endowed "American jedi", whose insouciant swagger and flip insults ("Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.") are a constant thorn in Zahn's side. The women's parts are just as well written as the men's, and each woman has her own reason for latching onto her man. "I love the idea of loving you," is Zahn's pathetic reply to his partner's (Milla Jovovich) request for an expression of affection. Their relationship is a lot more dysfunctional than we, at first, realize. I really enjoyed watching Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez together, there is such openness in their faces and chemistry between them. The screenplay is loaded with wit, and I suspect that all the references to screen writing are a jab at what usually passes for scripts in Hollywood in general and this type of movie in particular. It has genuine suspense, great performances and breath-taking cinematography. A welcome breath of fresh air.
I watched this movie a second time to see how the details of the "whodunnit" aspect of the story were managed and I ended up enjoying the movie and admiring the screenplay and the direction even more. The script is very imaginative and economical in the way it handles small details and uses them to enrich the story. Small things such as the bug in the bottle, the rings, and the operation of the camera ("Just point and shoot?") ripple through the story. Olyphant's line to Zahn, "Maybe you should change your story", is a double entendre that made me laugh this time around. Twohy makes absolutely certain that we are always aware of the geography of each scene. The crucial props - knife, axe, gun, camera - are in place and we always know where each character is, and if one of them suddenly looms out of nowhere we know why it is logical. The Big Twist, whether you guessed it or not, is thrilling in the way it gathers all the threads of the story together. The craftsmanship and artistry that went into this movie elevates it way above its schlock B-movie origins.