“Trap for Cinderella,” a British mystery thriller adapted from the French novel “Piège pour Cendrillon” by Sébastian Japrisot, is so fiercely determined to be clever and surprising that it never once stops to realize just how ludicrous it is. I can elaborate on why only in the vaguest of terms; the foundation of the plot is built upon not one but two major plot twists, both of which I’m obviously not suppose to spoil for you. I could play the delicate film critic and say that knowing the secrets beforehand would kill the suspense, but truth be told, if you knew them, you would find them so laughably preposterous that you wouldn’t want to see the film at all. Regardless, my inability to discuss the sequence of events in detail will make writing this review incredibly difficult – and, in all likelihood, make for a very boring read. If there’s one thing readers can’t abide, and I know this from my years as an English student, it’s nonspecificity.
I’m fairly certain I can describe the opening third of the film without giving away anything crucial. We open with an exterior night shot of a chateau in the south of France; an explosion rocks the camera, and a fireball flies out from one of the upper windows. We then cut to a montage sequence in which a burned young woman is in a Swiss hospital having her face surgically reconstructed. This woman, who survived the explosion, eventually comes to with absolutely no memory of who she is or what happened to her. A doctor informs her that she’s a twenty-year-old Londoner named Mickey (Tuppence Middleton), that her wealthy aunt has recently died, and that she will be placed in the care of her aunt’s personal assistant, Julia (Kerry Fox), who has known Mickey since she was a child. Naturally, Mickey doesn’t recognize her aunt or Julia.
Back in London, Mickey escapes from Julia’s watchful eye and tries to put the pieces together, relying on a combination of random memory flashes, a series of handwritten addresses, a sexual encounter with her ex-boyfriend (Aneurin Barnard), and several photographs. The latter are especially important, for they prominently feature another young woman, whose private diary, discovered by Mickey in a trunk, provides the setup for extended flashback sequences that lead to the first of the plot twists. The second girl is Domenica, Do for short, and according to Mickey’s ex, she died in the explosion. As Mickey reads her diary and the scenes unfold visually, we see that Do (Alexandra Roach) was once Mickey’s inseparable childhood friend; they drifted apart for reasons not given until later in the film, but Do eventually reentered Mickey’s life, rekindling their friendship.
And that’s about as much of the plot I’m at liberty to divulge. The first of the two twists has pretty much the same effect as getting clocked across the jaw – it comes out of nowhere, it has you questioning what just happened, and it gets more painful as time goes on. The vast majority of the rest of the film plays like an prolonged whodunit explanation, the details for how, why, when, and whom given at great length. The problem is that what we’re seeing and hearing is so convoluted, implausible, and outlandish that it inspires more groans of disappointment than gasps of surprise. No one in their right mind could buy into what motivates specific characters, nor can they accept the ridiculous logic with which they scheme their schemes. If this were a nineteenth-century potboiler, which were not only of low quality but also written before the advent of modern-day forensic technology, perhaps then audiences would buy into it.
The second twist, reserved for the final act, has two apparent goals. One is to expiate for the explanations given up to that point. It doesn’t succeed, precisely because specific characters are still under the impression that everything had gone according to their hopelessly unconvincing plan. The other is for the filmmakers to flaunt how crafty they believe they’re being; you thought you knew what was going on, but you were wrong. There comes a point at which cleverness devolves into self-indulgence, and the problem with this movie is that this happens long before the second twist. Writer/director Iain Softley should have relied on the same tactics he applied to “The Skeleton Key.” It might have had equally preposterous explanations, but given the film’s supernatural elements, at least they were understandable.
For all the explaining that’s done, at no point does “Trap for Cinderella” provide insight regarding the meaning of the title. Neither Mickey nor Do are written to be a contemporary version of the Cinderella character, not even remotely. The best we get is talk of an inheritance, a subplot that involves Mickey’s now deceased aunt Elinor (Frances de la Tour), seen only during the flashbacks and on the cover of a magazine during the opening sequence. All the much more fitting titles have unfortunately already been taken by other films – and if I were to reveal them, I would be breaking my promise to not spoil the twists. Watching a movie like this is frustrating for me, for it reveals that some filmmakers are willing to labor mightily over an ill-conceived construct that’s intended to be taken seriously yet cannot be. Even as an evening’s entertainment, was there really no other way to tell this story?