Have you ever asked yourself, “What the hell did I just watch?” No? Well, writer/director Cairo Smith’s psychological thriller Screwdriver, might just get you to blurt it out.
After being left by her husband, Emily (AnnaClare Hicks) travels across the country to California to stay with her old friend from high school, Robert (Charlie Farrell), and his wife Melissa (Milly Sanders). Melissa runs a mysterious health start-up, and Robert is a counselor/psychologist of sorts. Melissa and Robert begin trying to help Emily through this challenging time by supplying her with healthy food and private therapy sessions.
Emily quickly begins to realize there may be ulterior motives when she is babied like a mental patient reprimanded for trying to leave the house. Wanting to get better emotionally, her sense of reality is torn between wanting to trust old friends and losing her mind. Are Robert and Melissa close to a breakthrough in genuinely helping Emily, or is there something much more sinister at play?
“…begins to realize there may be ulterior motives when she is babied like a mental patient reprimanded for trying to leave the house.”
It’s never any fun to watch a movie made up of scenes filled with exposition that explain everyone’s relationships and motives. There needs to be an element of mystery as the story unfolds, giving the audience a little bit of work to do, especially with a thriller. But it’s also not fun to be given zero information to work with whatsoever. Screwdriver has the fundamental elements that make up a great “I’m Not Crazy!” psychological thriller: A creepy, good-looking couple, a mentally fragile protagonist, and a claustrophobic setting. Yet it leans too heavily into ambiguity throughout the 94-minute runtime to give the audience an idea as to what is going on, who anyone really is to one another, and what anyone feels in any given scene.
Not only does every scene have no arc to it, but you cannot connect with a single character because people’s emotions in the delivery of their lines change from angry to happy to confused to sexual in an instant. These scenes feel as though they are poorly edited mashups of multiple takes with variations in delivery. There is even a scene when Emily and Robert are talking at the dinner table in a two-shot, and as she responds to one of Robert’s questions, there is a jump cut to another take of her finishing her sentence. There are various jump cuts throughout to signify psychological distress, but this moment came across as a mistake.
The dialogue between characters doesn’t have any sort of logical flow. There’s a mad lib element to the scenes where I technically understood what each person says, but the sequences of sentences and responses never seem logical. It is like hearing what English must sound like to someone who doesn’t speak the language. Not once did it feel like a story was being told, but instead, people were saying things, and time passed. Whatever climactic consequences occurred felt connected to something off-screen that the viewer wasn’t made aware of or included in.
It’s a movie that could be forgiven with the right ending. Unfortunately, Screwdriver falls into the Tommy Wiseau category. Its saving grace is Charlie Farrell’s performance. He has a Tom Cruise charm that says more with a smile than a word. I would not be surprised if he moonlights as a Cruise impersonator.
"…saving grace is Charlie Farrell's performance."