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German Thriller Trunk Is a Claustrophobic Shot of Adrenaline

Photo: courtesy Outside the Club

Debuting this week on Prime Video, the German thriller Trunk takes its protagonist and audience on a panic-inducing 90-minute ride, all the while ensconced in a single tight location: the boot of an Audi sedan careening toward the border—and the kidnapped heroine’s likely demise. Written and directed by Marc Schießer, making his feature directorial debut, and with a convincing performance from lead Sina Martins, Trunk manages to transcend the tight confines of its claustrophobic conceit and make for a deft, taut thrill ride.

Martens plays Malina, who comes to consciousness in a locked trunk with no memory of how she got there. She’s just alert enough to grab her phone before the lid closes on her and the vehicle speeds off. Desperate and disoriented, her panicky calls to family and friends are dismissed at first as a gag. Marina has better luck with the authorities, but dodgy service, strict data limits, and waning battery power make the police’s job more difficult.

Sina's captor closes the trunk lid.
Poal Cairo as Malina’s mysterious captor in Trunk. Photo: courtesy Outside the Club.

It’s not for some time that Malina comes to realize the full extent of her injuries. A medical student, she manages to diagnose what’s been done to her—it’s horrifying—and start to discern why and how. Her phone provides more clues: just before the attack, she was cognizant enough to start recording. The video depicts the when, what, and how of the attack, and eventually Malina comes to realize not only what’s been done to her but why. And as her kidnapper careens toward the border and his ransom, with no real reason to keep her alive any longer, Malina must race against time—all the while locked in the trunk—to hatch her escape.

Trunk is essentially a one-location and incredibly claustrophobic narrative, with about 92 of its 95 minutes taking place inches from Malina in the locked Audi boot. Schießer borrows a few tricks from the Lola Rennt-era Tom Tykwer to keep the pace quick, though, including a thumping soundtrack, some clever diegetic music, and some wildly clever cutting. For a film that takes place only in a locked car trunk, Trunk is surprisingly visually inventive.

Malina makes a phone call.
SIna Martins as Malina in Trunk. Photo: courtesy Outside the Club

For all the clever conceits and quick cuts, it’s up to Martins to convince viewers. Her Malina is no Mary Sue, that’s for certain: her character makes some rash (if plausible) decisions and more than a few mistakes along the way. But Martins is riveting as the kidnapped medical student whose clock is running out in real time. Malina is a fully rounded character, with strengths and weaknesses, her relationships complicated and her professional life uncertain; between her backstory (parceled out in small doses of conversation and glimpses of her camera roll and social feed) and Martins’ performance, the character is worth rooting for.

Trunk only veers off course when trying to explain the too-complicated plot. Women are kidnapped and trafficked enough in this world for far less elaborately concocted rationales than the one Trunk posits for Malina. Just why she’s been kidnapped matters, both to the character and the film’s plot, but the exposition that delivers this information is less than deftly integrated and feels like a mechanically engineered explanation more so than a genuine narrative event.

Malina scrolls through her social feed, including a snap of her and here boyfriend on vacation.
Artjom Gilz as Enno and Sina Martins as Malina in Trunk. Photo: courtesy Outside the Club.

In any case, it’s the confinement that makes the film. It’s not easy to keep a one-location and (mostly) single-actor film interesting from both a visual and a narrative perspective. Tin Can and On the Line are two recent examples that do so, the former a bit more like Trunk, the latter from the perspective of a dispatch operator. What Trunk does best is to enliven the one-location, one-actor (okay, mostly one actor: both Malina’s captor and her boyfriend have a few lines onscreen) conceit with a lively pace and a true visual panache, all of it anchored by a strong lead performance from a charismatic actor playing a flawed character.

Trunk is not the kind of film that will last beyond its closing credits. That is to say, it’s not the kind of film that will have you researching its subject matter, pondering its weighty themes, or second-guessing its plot. It will, though, keep you engaged for 95 minutes, as long as you’re willing to jump into its single tight location and watch as its protagonist fights for her life in a race against the clock.  What Trunk does, it does well.




Written by J Paul Johnson

J Paul Johnson is Publisher of Film Obsessive. A professor emeritus of film studies and an avid cinephile, collector, and curator, his interests range from classical Hollywood melodrama and genre films to world and independent cinemas and documentary.

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