Following his resourceful low-budget chiller "My Little Eye," Brit director Marc Evans revisits similar genre territory but this time stumbles with "Trauma." Visually stylish and distinguished by its hallucinatory atmosphere of dread, the psychological thriller about a coma patient who emerges into an increasingly delusional world is hampered by narrative incoherence, sluggish pacing and emotionally remote characters.

Following his resourceful low-budget chiller “My Little Eye,” Brit director Marc Evans revisits similar genre territory but this time stumbles with “Trauma.” Visually stylish and distinguished by its hallucinatory atmosphere of dread, the psychological thriller about a coma patient who emerges into an increasingly delusional world is hampered by narrative incoherence, sluggish pacing and emotionally remote characters. Strongest shot will be as a DVD title for this first feature from Anglo-Irish production outfit Little Bird’s new horror label, Ministry of Fear.

Waking up in a hospital after being in a coma for a week, Ben (Colin Firth) learns the car he was driving crashed and his wife Elisa (Naomie Harris) was killed. His disorientation and guilt-ridden state is further aggravated by the media frenzy gripping London after the murder of a pop star.

Ben visits the same shrink he saw following a childhood trauma, and moves into a creepy former hospital. There, he becomes friendly with neighbor Charlotte (Mena Suvari), whose spiritual bent gives her a view into his tortured soul.

Charlotte takes Ben to a medium (Brenda Fricker), who further destabilizes him by telling him Elisa is alive. When a cop (Ken Cranham) begins questioning Ben about the pop star killing, he becomes increasingly unable to distinguish reality from morbid fantasy.

Working with accomplished d.p. John Mathieson and editor Mags Arnold, Evans creates a darkly textured world of fragmented images and disturbing visions that recalls the charged visual atmosphere of Hong Kong thrillers like “The Eye.” However, Richard Smith’s original screenplay fails to lay a concrete foundation in reality or to provide sufficient access to the characters, resulting in an unsatisfyingly, uninvolving abstract chiller. Even when the puzzle comes together in the final reel, the pieces remain an imperfect fit.

Like so many recent films in which stylistic flourishes take precedence over plot construction, too many factors — Ben’s home in a blue-lit, other-worldly building with an abandoned morgue in the basement and seemingly no other residents aside from Charlotte; his ant farm and entomology interest — seem like arbitrarily creepy components with no logical bearing on the story beyond their visual function.

Stuck with a distancing character, Firth contributes a brooding, troubled turn that’s become his stock in trade, while Suvari lacks the gravitas to make much of an impression in an enigmatic role. Pic screened at Sundance without end credits.

Trauma

U.K.

Production

A Myriad Pictures, First Choice Films presentation in association with BBC, Isle of Man Film of a Little Bird production. Produced by Nicky Kentish Barnes, Jonathan Cavendish. Executive producers, Kirk D'Amico, Marion Pilowsky, James Mitchell. Co-producer, Lizzie Francke. Directed by Marc Evans. Screenplay, Richard Smith.

Crew

Camera (color), John Mathieson; editor, Mags Arnold; music, Alex Heffes; production designer, Crispian Sallis; art director, Paul Ghirardini; set decorator, Careen Hertzog; costume designer, Ffion Elinor; assistant director, Matthew Penry-Davey; casting, Jina Jay. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 19, 2004. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Ben - Colin Firth Charlotte - Mena Suvari Elisa - Naomie Harris Tommy - Tommy Flanagan Roland - Sean Harris Petra - Brenda Fricker Inspector Jackson - Ken Cranham

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