As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword and once a piece of the written word is released in public, it’s out of the author’s control how it could be interpreted. The Infernal Machine is a cautionary tale of that scenario. Reclusive author Bruce Cogburn has been hiding out in his hilly desert home for decades after his controversial first book leads to a tragic event that kills over a dozen people.
Right from the opening scene, it’s clear Cogburn is still haunted by that incident, he lives alone in an unkempt home and practically drinks himself away day in, day out. To make matters worse, he’s stalked by an anonymous ‘fan’ who sends him endless letters, delivered daily via a courier.
It takes a charismatic actor like Guy Pearce to keep this repetitive scenario engaging and he’s the only person on screen the entire time. He looks disheveled, scruffy, and grouchy as he makes a trek to the nearest phone booth, calling the mysterious sender to stop contacting him. It’s always best to go into a film like this knowing as little as possible, so I’ll refrain from talking about its plot points. Part of the fun is the discovery as things start to unravel slowly and Cogburn is put through the wringer as he tries to piece together this cryptic puzzle.
Writer/director Andrew Hunt’s script incorporates a sly red herring as it led me to believe the film is about one thing but it’s in fact another. It’s a slo-burn thriller that might bore some people who are so used to constant action to keep them entertained, but I for one appreciate the intricate layer of the story and character development. I do think editing/pacing could’ve been tighter overall and the third act feels a bit outlandish. That said, the ending is one I won’t soon forget.
This is Hunt’s sophomore feature after Miles Between Us which is a family drama, though he has honed his craft in various award-winning shorts, including the excellent zombie drama short Frost Bite. This is certainly a confident work from Hunt, aided by Sara Deane’s evocative cinematography that mixes the vast wilderness of California desert with intense close-ups. Apparently, the film was shot mostly in Portugal, perhaps some astute Californian might notice the difference.
I’ve been a huge fan of Guy Pearce for some time and this is definitely a terrific role for the Aussie thespian. Cogburn goes through a roller coaster of emotion and he’s constantly on edge, making the most of Pearce’s solid acting chops. It’s also wonderful to see Alice Eve playing against type here which shows she’s more versatile than meets the eye, I sure wish we see more of her in Hollywood. I’m not familiar with Alex Pettyfer but he’s pretty good and believable in his role. Lastly, there’s Jeremy Davies in a memorable performance despite his brief appearance.
Overall, The Infernal Machine is an intriguing psychological thriller with plenty of twists and turns. Definitely a must-see for Guy Pearce’s fans and anyone up for a thought-provoking mystery.
Q: How did you come into the project as a writer/director? Is the premise based on an original idea or an existing concept (novel, short story, etc)?
A: It began with the podcast “The Truth”. There was one episode called the “Hilly Earth Society” that was a story about a reclusive author named Bruce Cogburn.
The entirety of the episode was a series of voicemails Cogburn was leaving for DuKent. The podcast didn’t answer; “What Cogburn had written.” Or “Why he was a recluse.” These unanswered questions led me into the world of JD Salinger and his novel The Catcher in the Rye.
The Infernal Machine explores the relationship between creator and creation. What is the author’s responsibility when their work is the catalyst for violence? How does one mark a blank page when their last story ignited so much destruction? Words have consequences. How much responsibility does a creator have when their “creation” turns into a monster? What we create will ultimately have a life of its own when released into the world. How the world interprets that creation is something the creator cannot control.
Q: Was Guy Pearce already cast when you board the project? If not, was he your original choice for the role?
A: Once the screenplay was written, we were fortunate enough to get the script into Guy’s hands. Once he read it, we jumped on zoom to chat about the film. Two hours later… Guy was in. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this part.
Q: What was it like working with Guy Pearce?
A: Guy is truly a chameleon. Every character he’s embodied over his storied career is completely unique. While directing The Infernal Machine I was fortunate enough to personally witness him transform into Bruce Cogburn, this complicated, haunted man who is increasingly compelled to engage with the world from which he has meticulously isolated himself. I admit I’m biased, but I don’t think an audience has met a character quite like him. I certainly haven’t.
Q: Was he as intense as I’d imagine he would be on set or is he more easygoing?
A: Guy is one of the most humble and sweet human beings I’ve ever met. Even though the “on screen tension” you could cut with a knife, off screen we were two 10-Year-Olds playing in a sandbox. It was a blast.
Q: It’s great to see Alice Eve and Alex Pettyfer playing against type, what’s your experience working with them?
A: I love working with actors that want to venture out into new territories they haven’t yet explored as an actor. Both are fantastic actors and I knew that they would have a unique take on these characters. My favorite part of directing is when an actor comes in with a bunch of ideas for the characters they are going to play. That injection of new ideas, new approaches, continues to keep the story/script fresh. It allows the film to unfold itself in new and interesting ways. We’re always striving to create something unique and unpredictable for the viewing audience. I felt that Alice & Alex delivered that in spades.
Q: The film deals with issues about how one’s past could come back to haunt you no matter how far one tries to hide from the world.
A: The central theme of the film is “truth”. The farther we stray from our own the more our soul decays into misery. Mistakes from our past haunt our present. If we leave unchecked those mistakes will ultimately shape our future. But it’s never too late to course correct, it’s never too late to change our own narrative to unlock a future that honors our own inner truth. Shakespeare said it best, “to thine own self be true.”
Q: What are some of your cinematic inspirations for this film?
A: The Conversation. No Country for Old Men. All the President’s Men.
Q: Lastly, what are some of the challenges you faced while making this? By the same token, what are some of your favorite memories on set?
A: Our greatest challenge was time. You never have enough time when making a film. My favorite memory on set was working with Guy. The level of playfulness we had constructing this crazy narrative with Bruce Cogburn is one that I’ll never forget.
Thank you, Andrew Hunt for this insightful interview!
Have you seen this movie? I’d love to hear what you think!