The title of writer/director/producer Carlos V. Gutierrez’s feature debut Locked In comes with multiple meanings. Most obviously it refers to the self-storage centre which here, as also in Shane Carruth’s Primer (2004), Michael Craft’s Storage (2009), Johannes Roberts’ Storage 24 (2012), Tom DeNucci’s Self Storage (2013) and Matt Winn’s The Hoarder (2015), serves not only as a key location and a repository for genre developments, but also as a place where paying customers and staff lock up their goods and keep their secrets. The title also refers to the on-screen introduction of protagonist Maggie (Mena Suvari), as she accidentally gets locked into a unit while working a shift at Storesafe with her colleague Lee (Bruno Bichir) – and her ensuing panic attack reveals her deep-seated claustrophobia. Or it could be a reference to Maggie’s absent husband Rich, locked away in prison, which may not be so very different from Maggie’s working life outside – after all, as another character, Ross (Manny Perez), will say of the storage facility: “I don’t like this place; it reminds me of prison”. Or the title could be foreshadowing the film’s climax, in which yet another character is locked in to face the hellish consequences of criminal actions, with no way out. And of course, given the timing of the film’s release, it is hard not also to think of the global pandemic which has recently had us all locked in and forced to face, in confinement, who we really are.
As Maggie finds herself and her teenaged daughter Tarin (Jasper Polish) caught one night in Storesafe with career thief Ross, his sadistic associate Mel (Jeff Fahey), and the wildcard Harris (Costas Mandylor) all desperately circling to find some stolen diamonds that have been stashed there, Gutierrez’s film is an ever-tightening cat-and-mouse thriller, with as many twists and turns as the labyrinthine facility at its centre. It is also a morality drama. For while Bible-reading “goody two-shoes” Maggie struggles to keep Tarin on the straight and narrow in a hostile environment of pressing poverty, a priapic landlord and gangs on the motel doorstep, she is herself at an ethical crossroads. Indeed, the only reason that she is visiting her workplace with Tarin at night is the temptation of hard cash that she had found among a non-paying customer’s seized items. While Maggie contemplates breaking bad (not for her first time), she finds herself surrounded by others who have long since lost all qualm and compunction about the wrong that they do.
“You think everything you do is perfect, but it’s not,” Tarin will complain to her mother. Similarly Ross will condemn someone for being “a scumbag that pretended not to be one,” concluding, “For me, that’s worse than admitting who you are and accepting it.” Locked In is a film preoccupied with hypocrisy, and with the masks that its characters wear to appear decent and respectable before others. From Tarin’s secret smoking and guarded swearing, to Lee’s covert side hustles, to Harris’ lies, it seems that everyone here is covering up their bad side, whether through guilt, shame or just the need to hide. Even the psychopathic Mel, who murders people for the ‘fun’ of it, plays innocent when confronted by a policewoman, while Maggie, even as she presents a front of righteousness to her daughter, has a darker past that she has carefully concealed. When Ross, surprised by Maggie’s capacity for criminality, suggests, “Your husband taught you well,” she replies, “Maybe I taught him.”
Yet one person’s hypocrisy is another’s transformation, and Maggie, though often conflicted as to which way she should turn, is keen to hold onto the new, upright life that she has created for herself and her daughter, no matter how difficult it may be. Whether we regard her final discovery as a reward for her efforts to stay on the path of good, or as just another corrupting enticement towards recidivism, is a question must be kept in store for viewers to disentangle for themselves.
strap: Carlos V. Gutierrez’s feature debut is both morality drama & thriller, with as many twists and turns as the labyrinthine facility at its centre.
© Anton Bitel