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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Coffin Rock is an Australian-made film that is reaching American shores courtesy of IFC Festival Direct, which finds interesting movies from various film festivals and allows you to see them on demand from your cable company. This is a cause to celebrate for serious movie lovers, as it gives you access to motion pictures you might not be able to see otherwise. While Coffin Rock is not without its flaws, it nevertheless is a genre picture that reveals some strong qualities before going just a bit off the rails during the home stretch.

Jessie Willis (Lisa Chappell) and her husband Rob (Robert Taylor) have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant. She has recommended fertility testing, but every time they get to the facility, Rob chickens out. He not-so-secretly fears discovering that he's sterile, and that chips away at his sense of manhood. Trouble rears its head when a drifter named Evan (Sam Parsonson) passes through town and takes notice of Jessie. After a fight with Rob, she briefly considers fooling around with Evan, then thinks better of it before they get too far along. Evan, however, is determined to make Jessie his own. What starts off as a near-tryst soon turns into flat-out rape. Not long after, Jessie discovers she is pregnant. Her dilemma: acknowledge the incident to her destined-to-be-devastated husband, or let him believe the baby is his and spend the rest of her life living in deceit.

Of course, it is not entirely her choice. When Evan finds out that he's fathered a child, he is thrilled. The young man slowly reveals a pathological desire to find acceptance via a relationship and a child. He starts threatening to blow the whistle. Jessie tries to fend him off, but Evan becomes more possessive and scary the more he is denied.

I have to confess that the first hour of Coffin Rock had me squirming incessantly. This is a great, uncomfortable premise for a thriller. Lisa Chappell does a terrific job of conveying her character's shameful sense that a bad decision has irreparably changed her life. I felt for her. Writer/director Rupert Glasson masterfully cranks up the tension as the situation grows more and more desperate for Jessie. Rob finds out she is pregnant, beams with joy at the thought that he isn't shooting blanks, and suddenly, unknowingly backs Jessie into a corner. Glasson also very effectively conveys the idea that Evan is a little bit off his rocker. The kid shows signs of some deep-seated paternal issues that drive his obsessions, which we glimpse in creepy flashbacks.

Regrettably, the film loses ground in the final act, which becomes a little too Fatal Attraction-y, with bodies piling up left and right. Actually, the comparison to Fatal Attraction is quite apt, as that was another movie that started off mining the psychological horrors of its premise, only to devolve into a bloodbath that partially undermined what had been so carefully constructed before. Coffin Rock is best in its first hour, when it's about the terror a woman feels knowing that she's been impregnated by the wrong man and having no good option for dealing with the problem. When we feel Jessie's knowledge that, either way, she's screwed, Coffin Rock is deeply unsettling. The ending may pull things down a little bit, but it doesn't detract from that intense first hour.

( 1/2 out of four)

Coffin Rock is unrated but contains sexuality, bloody violence, language and rape. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.

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