What makes for good drama also often makes for low-budget filmmaking.
Sticking to a small cast of characters, a single setting and a confined period of time is a great way to keep your costs low. But, as playwrights going back to the ancient Greeks knew, it’s also a way to emphasize conflict, ratchet up tension, and build character. Get rid of the sideshows and special-effects spectacles. Keep things simple, and moving.
Carlos V. Gutierrez’ Locked In demonstrates how.
A stripped-down little thriller, it stars Mena Suvari as a single mom and assistant manager at one of those you-store-it warehouses. She suspects that some of the things stored in its lockers may not be strictly legal – she’s glimpsed her boss taking wads of cash from renters – but she’s got a kid and a husband in prison. She needs the job.
Then one night two mysterious men arrive. They explain her boss was hiding some diamonds for them – except they don’t know where. They need them now. They pull their guns.
Start opening those lockers, lady.
What makes the movie smart is, it knows its limitations. In fact, it was obviously designed with them in mind. Except for a few brief scenes that set up the situation, we never leave the confines of the warehouse. Except for one inquisitive cop, no new characters are introduced. We’re as trapped in this anonymous, fluorescent-lit space as this terrorized woman is.
So with all distractions removed, we’re forced to concentrate on the tense situation at hand.
Sometimes, of course, that concentration only leads us to discover holes in the plot. To keep the story moving, Gutierrez sometimes forces characters to act in inconsistent or implausible ways, or unlikely incidents to pile on top of each other. Some early details (Suvari’s character has claustrophobia) never really develop into anything. A few others (a sudden, discovered pair of road flares) feel arbitrarily shoe-horned in.
But there are a few shocks here, and even if one or two seem forced, they deliver.
There are some surprises here, too, in the casting. Older viewers may be startled to suddenly realize that Suvari, once the Bambi-eyed adolescent of “American Beauty” is now old enough to play a single mother. Or that Jeff Fahey, best remembered by some as the handsome leading man in shockers like “Body Parts” and “The Lawnmower Man,” has aged into a character actor able to coldly convince as a grizzled biker.
But that was the ‘90s, and this is now, and time waits for no one.
Especially for a woman with a gun at her head, and two desperate criminals urging her to hurry up.