Rattle the Cage (Zinzana) Review

When done right, films set in one location can be just as gripping as those with multiple settings. Think of Phone Booth (2002), Buried (2010), Locke (2013): tense, action-packed thrillers, all made more effective by clever use of their limited surroundings. Similarly, Rattle the Cage (Zinzana, 2015) never leaves the prison it’s set in – save for a brief aerial shot to establish its isolated setting. And while it does for the most part work, there is something lacking in director Majid Al Ansari’s debut feature that stops it from being memorable.

What begins as a standard drama when Talal (Saleh Bakri) wakes up in a cell after being arrested for fighting the night before, soon becomes a highly-strung thriller when a strange guard (Ali Suliman) visits the prison. From then on, Rattle the Cage is a tense ride in which Talal fights for his freedom and his life, all the while trying to comply with this eccentric guard’s requests.

It is the first and second acts of Ansari’s film that really impress, Ruckus and Lane Skye’s script brilliantly nail-biting. The suspense is also offset by a surprising comedic element, mostly through the fabulously madcap performance of Ali Suliman as the mysterious ‘guard’ who is intent on manipulating Talal in order to get what he wants – whatever that may be. Exaggerating even the smallest of movements with a dramatic flourish, Suliman is funny and brilliantly OTT, yet incredibly menacing at the drop of a hat. He is also one of the things that keeps this so watchable.

While these comic elements do work, something is lost in the tension of the tale by using them. We are never as gripped as we should be, nor do we ever completely feel for Talal and his plight. In fact, at times we find ourselves identifying and rooting for the guard more than Talal, so appealing is his erratic and outlandish character.

Ansari’s directorial style is inventive and absorbing in the earlier moments of the film, yet later becomes as flamboyant as Suliman’s performance. Beginning with a remarkable sweeping shot that travels throughout the prison, takes such as this are later overused and thus less impressive as the film goes on. An overreliance on CGI to create some of these (sometimes very noticeable CGI) can be a little distracting too, something else that minimises the suspense of the plot.

As Rattle the Cage leads into its third act, the formula of comedy and drama outstays its welcome, as does the tired story which descends into cliché at times. When the ending reveals the truth about why the ‘guard’ is there, you can’t help but be slightly disappointed by an anticlimactic idea that has been used thousands of times before. Still for a feature debut and the first genre film of its kind to come out of the United Arab Emirates, this really is an incredible achievement with many moments that are as good, if not better, than many Hollywood thrillers.


An impressive start soon descends into tired clichés, with a mix of comedy and drama that detracts from the tense story. Still, Ali Suliman’s bold performance keeps this watchable.


out of 10

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