There's nothing novel about a kidnapping plot as the basis for a thriller. But from such a familiar premise Michał Szcześniak fashions something fresh in Fisheye. The writer-director's first fiction feature follows his acclaimed work in documentary and shorts, and was the winner of two prizes at this year's Młodzi i Film festival: one for Agata Kurzyk's score and the other for Julia Kijowska's lead performance. While the film's theatrical life now seems uncertain - it was to have opened in Polish cinemas on 13 November but that was before the government's announcement of the latest restrictions - it's worth seeking out this engaging thriller whenever and wherever you can.
When we first meet Kijowska's Anna she's the epitome of prickly professional competence: a scientist preoccupied at her microscope in a lab, responding to an interloper with a brusque "Not now! I'm busy!" Making a possibly revelatory (and lucrative) discovery, Anna drives home to tell the news to her handsome boyfriend Janek (Wojciech Zieliński), who's up for celebratory sex and eager to make a baby. Shunning that idea, Anna heads out to buy food - only to be grabbed in the doorway of her building (rendered in a wonderfully effective long-shot and abrupt cut), and to awaken in a blue-pannelled, soundproofed room, certain that she's been the victim of a case of mistaken identity.
And, in a very particular way, she has. Reliant upon several narrative twists, Fisheye is the kind of picture that only a churl would "spoil." Suffice it to say that what starts out with indications of being a medical / corporate genre thriller exercise, with added echoes of Panic Room and 10 Cloverfield Lane, gradually delves into more psychological territory by using the abduction premise to give Anna a unique, unsettling perspective on her life and identity.
Much concerned, as its title suggests, with issues of distorted perception, the film has the right kind of claustrophobic ambience but never feels static. Szcześniak and his collaborators - including DP Paweł Dyllus, editors Magdalena Chowańska and Ireneusz Grzyb, and brilliant sound designer Radosław Ochnio (of Baby Bump and 11 Minutes among many other credits) - give an exciting visual and aural dissonance to the piece, the better to put us into Anna's headspace as she interacts with her elusive captor (Piotr Adamczyk, in an effective performance reliant on voice work more than anything else) and finds layers of the repressed past peeled away.
The invariably striking Kijowska gives a committed, highly physical performance that charts every step on Anna's journey from disbelief to despair to a catharsis that's as tentative as it is hard-won, holding the film together through some uncertain moments. The picture supplies the surprises and suspense you might anticipate, but it's as an exploration of a woman belatedly coming to terms with her past that Fisheye achieves its more lasting, haunting power.