Strands of Heavenly Creatures and Single White Female find their way into Trap for Cinderella, Iain Softley’s tepid adaptation of Sebastien Japrisot’s 1963 novel about two childhood friends who reconnect as young women in their 20s and develop an unhealthy relationship built on hidden jealousy and resentment. The film aspires to the sexual intrigue, emotional complexity, and subversive commentary of Roman Polanski, Claude Chabrol, and Alfred Hitchcock’s work, but the lifeless, sub-televisual direction, gimmicky nonlinear narrative, and clunky plotting marred with complicated twists and turns hold back what otherwise seems like suitably salacious material.
The story begins with a fiery explosion that lands 20-year-old Micky (Tuppence Middleton) in the hospital. Riddled with third-degree burns and unable to remember anything about her past, she remains there for a number of weeks before finally returning to a normal life. She gradually reconnects with her past and is reminded specifically of a tumultuous relationship with the clingy Do (Alexandra Roach), her childhood chum whom she reconnects with as an adult. (Spoilers herein.) It turns out Do died in the explosion, but all may not be as it seems: By way of flashback (after flashback, after flashback), the events that led to the explosion are revealed, though keen viewers will see the would-be surprises a mile away.
Obviously, any narrative film needs a cohesive story, and Softley takes great pains to ensure that Trap for Cinderella compels throughout—the problem being that the story (his interpretation of it, at least) isn’t actually all that compelling. Chiefly, it’s a quasi-erotic tale of two frenemies hell-bent on mutual destruction, but Softley is far too interested in the minutia of the plot to bother with the Chabrolian elements of bourgeois excess (Micky is an independently wealthy trust fund kid with a penchant for partying) or the Hitchcockian themes of mistaken identity. At best, he gives these aspects a cursory glance before diving right back in to his Screenwriting 101 handbook, proving to be more concerned with act breaks and exposition than anything resembling subtext. As the film plows toward its hackneyed denouement, Softley never loosens his grip, but with melodrama, more so than any other genre, a sense of shapelessness (or adventure, at least) is required to keep things from becoming overly staid. Trap for Cinderella, self-serious and self-actual, would have benefitted from less demanding hands.