There was a UCLA study on “lovemaking in entertainment” that was doing the rounds on the internet recently. The people who were asked were between the ages of 13 and 24 (known as Gen Z), and most of them said that any display of physical intimacy made them feel “awkward” because it was too graphic. The study also showed that Gen Z was interested in “different types” of relationships, which included asexual or aromantic stories. And, of course, there’s a more rabid version of this discourse that takes place on social media, where the general vibe is that any form of physical expression is unnecessary in movies and shows because it doesn’t “take the plot forward.” Contrary to this increasingly popular opinion, I think that the depiction of romance—which can be healthy, toxic, or devoid of any physical intimacy—has declined in terms of quality, and that has led to a general aversion towards on-screen sensuality. Case in point: Locked In.
Nour Wazzi’s Locked In, which has been written by Rowan Joffé, tells the story of Katherine, a former movie star, who has been hospitalized after a brutal accident. Her whole body is immobile, and only one of her eyes is functional. So, the nurse who is assigned to her, Mackenzie, tries to get her to talk about what has happened to her. Katherine manages to indicate that someone has tried to murder her, and that’s when the movie goes into flashback mode to show how things went wrong. Katherine had a stepson named Jamie, who suffered from epilepsy. She also had a daughter, whom she claimed to have “picked up from the streets and placed in the mansion,” named Lina. Lina and Jamie spent a lot of time together, and soon, they decided to get married. This caused some animosity between Katherine and Lina because she went from being a poor companion to her stepson to the future owner of Katherine’s estate. Amidst all this, there was Doctor Lawrence, who had the hots for Lina, which obviously irked Jamie and Katherine. And when all this came to a head, Katherine bore the brunt of it.
So, as you can see, there’s nothing really new about Locked In. There’s a lot of jealousy and backstabbing going on, which is very common in psychological thrillers. Rowan tries to do something with the audience surrogate, Mackenzie, but even that feels odd because she becomes way too invested in the plot. I get why she is there, but the way she is kept around, it feels like she has no other purpose but to allow the plot to unfold in front of the audience. Her actual job becomes secondary, and that’s sort of hilarious. However, the bigger issue is the romance, and no, unlike the aforementioned Gen Z audience that doesn’t like intimate scenes in cinema, I’m not against the fact that there’s something romantic going on between the characters. My issue is that it’s really shallow. There’s no passion between the characters. The intensity between the love interests is so surface-level that it fails to fuel the film. And since that’s supposed to form the very crux of the narrative, which it doesn’t, everything falls apart, and the whole viewing experience ends up feeling really hollow. Even the twists are so banal that it seems like the “mystery” and the “thrilling” aspects of this mystery thriller are a joke.
Coming back to the part about the lack of passion in Locked In, it’s true that Nour Wazzi is trying to make a thriller geared towards a mature audience. Hence, there are a handful of risque scenes and shots. But none of it really works because an undue amount of focus is put on the wrong thing. The explicit nature of a scene doesn’t make or break an adult thriller. It’s the buildup to it, the toxicity that exists between the characters, and the charisma of the actors that matter more than all the window dressing. In this case, the dynamic between Lina, Katherine, Lawrence, and Jamie is way too juvenile to be taken seriously. All the moments where they bicker or lose control of their emotions have the tonality of a Wattpad novel. And, despite being an award-winning director, Wazzi fails to elevate this material, thereby making the scenes of physical catharsis feel performative and cold. The actors not being able to sell the tension is a different issue altogether.
To be fair to the actors, the cast of Locked In is actually a talented lot. Apart from the X-Men movies, Famke Janssen is very famous for her portrayal of Xenia Onatopp (a very unsubtle name). Rose Williams has exhibited her acting prowess in Reign, The Power, and Sanditon. Alex Hassell has proven his worth in The Boys and The Tragedy of Macbeth. And we all know about Finn Cole’s amazing work in Peaky Blinders and Animal Kingdom. But they seem to be completely inept in this film. Rose probably gets the most amount of screen time, and she does most of the legwork, but it’s all so forgettable. Hassell is supposed to be the most twisted and insidious character in the film, and he feels like some other “villain of the week.” Finn Cole is absolutely wasted in the movie. Rose, Hassell, and Cole do get to spend a lot of time around a very fake-looking lake, and that did get a reaction from me. The reaction was laughter, BTW. Jansse does a lot of eye acting, but again, it’s unintentionally hilarious. As for Anna Friel, I’ve no clue why she decided to sign up for this role. I hope that the paycheck and the filming experience were good.
Locked In is yet another bland-as-hell Netflix thriller. Those who hate graphical obscenity in entertainment probably won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. Those who haven’t seen good adult thrillers will probably think this is the peak of obscenity in entertainment. And I will be here re-watching Decision to Leave because it is one of the best movies of all time. It has the right blend of sexual tension, romance, mystery, action, and thrilling moments. I know that everyone can’t be Park Chan-Wook. He is amazing. However, I think filmmakers can strive to be as good as him, especially if they are trying to steam up the small or big screen. If they get somewhere close, it’ll certainly be a movie worth watching. If they aim for something less than that, they’ll end up making stuff like Locked In.