Cairo Smith’s directorial debut didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the film’s trailer. I was looking forward to some exciting moments and a well-crafted story, but the final product was miles from what I would consider “good.” I was hoping for at least one moment to make me say, “Wow, that’s impressive!” But unfortunately, Cairo Smith’s film is quite a disappointment in the end.
Screwdriver introduces us to Emily, a newly divorced thirty-three-year-old woman who buys a train ticket to California to seek help from Robert, one of her oldest friends. Robert and his wife, Melissa, welcome Emily with open arms. But, with time, their behavior turned hostile and manipulative. At the start of the movie, we feel that Robert is genuinely trying to help Emily overcome her trauma, but soon, the story turns intense and takes on an ominous vibe. Emily is subjected to ruthless and aggressive psychological sessions that make her doubt her previous life. These sessions isolate her from the outside world, and she becomes a victim of Robert and Melissa’s extreme manipulation.
The story is told through the interactions of Emily, Robert, and Melissa, and things get even more tense and violent when Emily’s ex-husband arrives at the house. Melissa, Robert’s wife, stands out the most in this movie and captures the struggles of a married woman longing for a child. Melissa is not only smart and educated but also quite cunning, putting her pharmacology degree to use in interesting ways. If we talk about Emily, she represents someone who’s desperate to carve out a normal life and get back on track following a tragic divorce. She has no idea that her generous hosts aren’t what they seem.
If we talk about the genre, Screwdriver is a psychological thriller filled with intense emotion, helplessness, and trust issues. It speaks to us because we have all, at some point in our lives, battled against that deep darkness and overwhelming obscurity. Talking about the characters, the writers have done a good job, but they could’ve been much more refined. Milly Sanders portrays the role of Melissa and can sometimes get on your nerves, but thanks to her, the movie, at certain points, gets digestible. Melissa has an obsession with controlling everything around her, whether it pertains to what people are drinking or the conversation they’re having. Unfortunately, this can sometimes get irritable. At some moments, it feels like the movie is avoiding other characters for the sake of giving her more screen time. There’s one specific scene where she grabs Emily’s plate and casually chucks it into the trash, all the while keeping up that passive-aggressive attitude simply because Emily said she doesn’t eat meat. She’s a control freak who pretends she isn’t, but that’s about all there is to her personality. Melissa’s and Robert’s control over Emily could be because of her own insecurity and the habit of blaming herself for the unfortunate events in her life. The husband and wife convinced her that she needed to become a god in her own right, and she thought the best way to accomplish this was to crucify herself using a screwdriver.
AnnaClare Hicks’s Emily, at the beginning of the movie, comes off as an innocent young woman who’s been through a tough break with her fiancé leaving her, but as the movie takes flight, we notice shifts in her mental state and a lot of it can be attributed to Melissa. Emily starts to fall victim to Mellisa’s manipulation and her overwhelming urge to control every aspect of her life, including her diet and hobbies. At first, the film tries to play it off as just stress affecting her behavior, but it becomes clear that there’s more to it than meets the eye. We watched Emily descend into a kind of mental instability, all thanks to Melissa and Robert’s influence.
If we talk about Robert, it seems like the writers just wrote him to make Melissa appear more normal and decent. This is pretty obvious, as throughout the movie, we see him justifying his wife’s actions as if they’re leading Emily to the greater good. Right from the start, he’s on a mission to “fix” Emily, even though she’s not exactly in need of fixing. All she’s been through is a breakup, but the movie handles it like Emily had left her mind at a pawn shop. Robert tries to pass off as a psychologist, but it’s pretty clear to us that something’s off. Sometimes, I felt that I was reading through an ongoing Q&A session with people discussing things that had little relevance or connection to the actual plot. Also, when the movie is not doing that, it portrays Emily as a sort of project or charity case for Robert, who seems to feel sorry for her.
When it comes to cinematography, the movie doesn’t break any new ground, which it should’ve, but it gets the job done. Most of the time, the camera remains still, mirroring how Emily’s life has become stagnant, much like hers. She’s unable to move forward and break free from her past. The film uses plenty of close-up shots to initially make us feel connected to Emily, sharing her sense of dread; however, as the story progresses, that connection begins to fade, and we no longer feel connected to her. Speaking of the dialogue, there are moments in the movie where it tries a bit too hard to sound intelligent, especially when Robert and Emily sit down for their sessions, but unfortunately, this falls flat most of the time. Emily’s portrayal doesn’t help either and makes things worse and, at times, unbearable. We see her struggling to fully commit to the role, and most of the time, it feels immature, irrelevant, and corny. Personally, I felt that the writers should have put more thought into the dialogue and the overall structure of the movie instead of throwing everything in all at once.
Even though Screwdriver is packed with a talented cast, it cannot compensate for its shortcomings. AnnaClare Hicks gives it her all as Emily; her facial expressions and infectious smile are pretty nice, but that’s kind of where the compliments stop. The movie is full of scenes that just don’t hit the mark, and even though Hicks does her best, the storytelling doesn’t quite give her character the depth it needs. Not to mention, the chemistry between her and Charlie Farewell was intended to be irresistible, but it turned out to be fake and unconvincing and felt like an unnecessary distraction. Charlie Farrell did bring his stunning good looks to the big screen, but unfortunately, that was all there was to his performance. His character lacked depth and sometimes appeared underconfident, lacking courage and displaying a manipulative side that could’ve been explored further. Towards the end, the movie tried to show a softer side of his character, but it felt more like an afterthought than a well-thought-out character arc. The therapy sessions he offered to Emily were also a bit forced, and even though his acting had its moments, it couldn’t quite make up for the lack of substance in the character.
Imagine having all the ingredients for a captivating psychological thriller, but the end result is a messed-up dish ruined by underdeveloped characters and poorly executed plot elements. Like a soup made from cilantro, Screwdriver leaves its audience unsatisfied. The movie cements the old saying that if the script and the characters aren’t strong, no amount of skill in the cast can save the movie from doom. Screwdriver failed to live up to the lofty standards it established, disappointing those who were hoping for a more tightly woven story.