Written and Directed by Ed Palmer
Starring Ingvild Deila and Stuart Mortimer
Indie Film Review by Chris Olson
The intensity of captivity narratives makes for some amazing cinema, even when they can be cinematically challenging. Movies like Room and 10 Cloverfield Lane have been huge hits with audiences and critics alike, combining ferocious dialogue, tremendous performances, and a filmmaking aesthetic that is utterly sublime. Writer and director Ed Palmer delivers on this same level with his breathtaking film Hippopotamus.
Inside a white bricked room a young woman sits on the bare floor, with bandages on her knees. Her name is Ruby (Ingvild Deila) and her awakening gasp is startling for the audience, who will immediately panic for her wellbeing. With the introduction of a menacing captor named Tom (Stuart Mortimer), who delivers a formidable monologue about the nature of Ruby's captivity, the suspense is beautifully heightened into a state of sheer terror. Ruby must stay isolated until she falls in love with Tom, obeying all rules and not trying to escape. Measures have been taken to ensure Ruby complies, hence the bandaged knees which cover tendons that have been cut.
The storyline is superbly written, with bleak horror coinciding with dramatic poise and romantic elements. Palmer masterfully unravels the tale for the audience, showing expert craftsmanship in his storytelling. Whilst the aforementioned captivity films are obvious reference points, a movie like Ex Machina is another. The dark tone of the setting being brilliantly contrasted with the humanity of the central character. Dialogue is to the point and always necessary to the story, allowing the phenomenal chemistry between the two performers to develop the scenes.
Deila is utterly compelling as the lead. Every painful crawl or emotional fumble is gripping, with the actor expertly navigating the physical demands of her character alongside the poignancy of her situation. Likewise, Mortimer is a great on screen presence. Throughout Hippopotamus, his figure is a shadowing evil that fills the room, but his interest in Ruby is superbly developed. Avoiding spoilers here as this is a movie to experience as fresh as possible.
It is important to pick out a couple of the players behind the camera. Most noteworthy is the cinematography from Tomás Brice. Every frame felt specially chosen, creating an intense tapestry of power struggles and mystery. Some of the transition scenes were so entertaining. As the camera slid from one sequence into another, changing lighting and mise en scéne, it was dramatically impactful and enhanced the storytelling. The sound design from Alice Trott was tenacious, elevating the mood of many scenes to fever pitch whilst knowing when to back off and let the performers do the heavy lifting. Some of the voice dubbing felt a little off, but this was only a minor fault.
Bold, dramatic, and painfully intense, Hippopotamus captures the very essence of cinema. It's a genre film that knows where to transcend the limitations and where to knowingly obey them. The result is something quite special.
Watch the official Hippopotamus movie trailer below...