Pressure from director Ron Scalpello is a low budget drama set within the confines of a stranded diving bell. Scalpello along with writers Louise Baxter, Alan McKenna and Paul Staheli have crafted a tight and particularly claustrophobic film that keeps the audience gripped for the entirety of the short run time. Moviescramble caught a showing of the film at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival.
Returning to port from the Somalian Basin, an oil company support ship is turned round in order to investigate a problem with a nearby pipeline. The regular dive crew for such an op are already off the ship so a hasty team is assembled by the captain. Leading the team is Mitchell (Matthew Goode) with the diving expertise provided by veteran divers Engel (Danny Huston) and Hurst (Alan McKenna). Completing the team is Jones (Joe Cole), an inexperienced kid who has never been more than thirty feet below the surface. Time is of the essence for the crew as there is a storm front moving in. Once on the bottom the pipeline issue is resolved just in enough time and the crew start their ascent to the surface. With the storm raging overhead the diving bell is plunged back on to the sea floor. All contact with above is lost and the men are left facing a life or death situation.
For any film with a relatively short run time establishment of the main characters is essential. Pressure achieves this in a couple of well designed scenes. Within the first three minutes the personality of Engel is defined without so much as a single word spoken. Through the sequence where he rises, get ready and walks to the bridge of the ship we get everything we need to know about his character. He has a personal issue, noted by the way he handles the pendant on his bedside table with care. As soon as he departs his cabin an altogether tougher and more business-like persona is on display. Jones is introduced in a similar way as we briefly see him at work. He comes across as being young, inexperienced and a little naïve. The conversation that takes place between Mitchell and Hurst completes the personalities of the group. Their scene lasts just over a minute, informs their own personalities, their history and basically sets up the drama for the rest of the film.
As you would hope with such a film, it has a very claustrophobic feel to it. The majority of the drama unfolds within the confines of the submersible with occasional underwater shots which do nothing to relieve the tension. The diving bell consists of two chambers and space is very limited in both. The confines are accentuated by the excellent camera work. Shots are often in close up cutting from one face to another emphasising the closeness of the characters within the diving bell. The editing in these scenes adds to the mood by holding the shot on a person for just longer than required which increases the uncomfortable nature of the drama. The shots outside of the diving bell are no less claustrophobic. At 650 metres below sea level there is virtually no light. The gloom is used to great effect making the surroundings as oppressive and close as the submersible.
The performances from the leads are subtle and no one actor attempts to overplay his part. They perform well together as a dysfunctional team. In order to inform some of the decisions the men are forced to make a certain amount of back story is introduced. This is never forced and there is a natural feel to the way the elements are introduced to the story. Thankfully there is no exposition dump at any point as it would have jarred with the pacing of the film. Instead, information is imparted to the group and the audience as and when it is relevant. This only adds to the increasing tension in the story.
Overall, a tense and engaging drama that benefits from great performances, a tight and economical script and some very subtle direction. Highly recommended.