Ventilation industry professionals, claustrophiliacs and anyone who appreciated the obligatory crawling-through-service-ducts scene in 80s action films such as Aliens and Die Hard will be well chuffed by this confined sci-fi puzzle thriller, presumably released to sanction the return of the word “fiendish” in reviews. That word made more than the odd appearance in writeups of Vincenzo Natali’s 1997 film Cube – to which Meander, set almost entirely inside a series of shoulder-width vents filled with fiendish traps, bears more than a faint resemblance.
There’s the briefest of preambles as woolly hatted Lisa (Gaia Weiss), lying on a wintry track with suicidal intentions, is picked up by gravel-voiced driver Adam (Peter Franzén). Their chat is turning existential when she realises, by the tattoo on his hand, that he is the escaped murderer the radio is talking about – and he attacks. Lisa wakes, to her disbelief, inside a small industrial space with perforated walls, and the only route out seems to be through a hatch giving on to the tightest of corridors. Of course, several feet farther down, the roof begins to close in.
Despite a title more suited to a film about long walks in a park with a mate, Meander’s basic rat-in-a-maze premise has an innate tension almost impossible to squander – even when the traps, as here, are a touch on the unimaginative side. The rat in this case, Weiss, is a lithe former ballet dancer who relishes the role’s physicality but she also – reminiscent of Noomi Rapace – combines it with a soulful pathos that she exploits well in her many closeups. It’s a shame that the inner turmoil being forced to the surface in this pressure cooker is a tacked-on subplot about her dead daughter that feels more of a hassle than the singed troglodyte pursuing her.
More intriguing is the suggestion that an extraterrestrial hand, with hard-to-fathom motives, is at the controls – as suggested in a spellbinding celestial flashback. Director Mathieu Turi films this very well, as well as the haunting opening on the road. Perhaps he’ll be able to find more possibilities in the fresh air outside the crawlspace of genre.
• Meander is available on digital platforms on 4 October.