A crime-and-revenge anecdote that might have made for a forceful 20-minute short doesn’t profit from being stretched to five times that length in “Landmine Goes Click.” This English-language Georgian feature starts out looking like yet another cautionary horror-thriller in which nubile young American trekkers are doomed to pay a price in terror for straying off the standard tourist routes abroad. But Levan Bakhia’s film soon literally stops one character in his tracks with the titular event, leaving us stranded there for a grindingly long time before shifting to a new but barely-less-restrictive situation in its last third. Results intended to be heart-pounding instead run the gamut from implausible to annoying to shrilly over-the-top. Pic, which opened theatrically and on VOD last month, seems likely to go out with a whimper rather than a bang in all formats and markets.
Curiously, Bakhia’s prior feature, “247F,” was also an English-language, Georgia-shot quasi-horror thriller with a physically limiting premise: Its characters found themselves locked in a sauna where the temperature steadily rose toward fatal degrees of heat. Here, at least, our protagonists are (for the first hour) outdoors, which looks quite spectacular in opening aerial photography of the Georgian countryside.
Three college-age Americans — Daniel (Dean Geyer), his fiancee, Alicia (Spencer Locke), and their best friend, Chris (Sterling Knight) — ditch their jeep on a rural road and backpack into the mountains, where Daniel has Chris perform a legally non-binding marriage ceremony for them on a scenic peak. We already know why Chris isn’t comfortable with this: He and Alicia recently made a “mistake” giving into their mutual attraction, a one-time slip-up the smitten Chris wants to confess to Daniel, while she vehemently does not.
They are joined by local park ranger Devi (Giorgi Tsaava), who arranges the tourist trio for a photo opp that unfortunately leads to Chris stepping on a land mine — a presumed remnant from the area’s recent warfare. After Devi runs off to supposedly get help (which is several hours away), Daniel reveals that in fact this crisis was no accident: He already knows Alicia cheated on him, and together with Devi planned this grotesque revenge. Tossing a shovel at her, he tells his now-ex-fiancee to start digging a trench that Chris just might be able to leap into before the land mine blows his leg or life to smithereens. Meanwhile, Chris must keep very, very still. Daniel then leaves, informing them further that no outside help will be forthcoming.
Actually, that turns out to be untrue, as soon enough the panicked, miserable duo have a chance encounter with a roaming local hunter and his dog. Alas, the pot-bellied, leering, English-speaking Ilya (Kote Tolordava) quickly susses that the situation — pretty, scantily clad young foreign female, trapped male helpless to defend her — is his to take advantage of. As the “game” he plays with them takes forever, escalating from minor disagreements to humiliation and violent assault, the young tourists continue to insult and order him around, well past the point where it’s obvious this is only making him more malicious. If their belligerence is meant as some deliberate commentary on Ugly Americanism, the precise point proves elusive.
In any case, this main episode proves a tough sit in ways not entirely intended, as Tolordava makes this predator more deeply irritating than truly frightening, and things play out in attenuated ways that easily cross the line from portraying sadism to exploiting it. It’s a relief when the pic finally moves on to a second section in which a mother (Nana Kiknadze) and daughter (Elene Bezarashvili, credited in some materials as Helen Nelson) end up paying a price for the actions of the first. But soon this development, too, is reduced to a few cubic feet of playing space, recalling the finale of “Killer Joe” (plus most of “Funny Games” and other home-invasion thrillers) as collective hysteria keeps ratcheting up to diminishing impact.
The performances are competent, but a major problem with “Landmine Goes Click” is that the character behaviors aren’t always credible; nor does the screenplay attempt to ballast them with more than the most superficial psychological insights. Unlike life, Bakhia’s story is nasty, brutish and long, its shock value too self-conscious and its events too stagy in conception to deliver the desired impact. By the end, those opening aerial shots are remembered all too fondly.
Package is well turned in most departments.