Andrew Hunt’s The Infernal Machine (available on VOD Friday) is a solid psychological thriller that knows its the cards it holds and how to play them. Guy Pearce stars as Bruce Cogburn, a reclusive writer whose mass-market success with his novel “The Infernal Machine” decades prior remains his only notable work. There’s a reason for that: Shortly after the book was published, an inspired fan named Dwight Tufford (Alex Pettyfer) shot and killed over a dozen innocent men and women from atop a bell tower in Knoxville, Tenn. Although Cogburn isn’t responsible, it really put a damper on his ability to continue writing new work. Or speaking to fans. Or interacting with anyone at all.
Pearce is great as Cogburn, and Hunt makes the story a one-man show. It’s been a fallow few years for fans of Pearce, with the actor often putting in performances that are simply far better than the material he’s been given. Here, Pearce actually gets a good script and works with it to great success. He’s always been good at playing men on the edge of madness, and Cogburn certainly fits the bill. Despite living entirely off the grid, letters start to appear in Cogburn’s mailbox. His phone starts to ring. Cars start driving near his house. The past he wants to escape finally decides to rear his ugly head, and secrets long buried come back to haunt him.
Hunt’s script follows a fairly traditional mystery structure, with red herrings, reversals and moments where it seems Cogburn himself has just completely lost it. Everything moves at a compelling pace and, until the final moments, feels justified within its own logic. The final resolution is a little odd, for reasons I don’t want to spoil here, but the thematic through-line is strong and Pearce’s strength as Cogburn provides the actual plot a lot of leeway to be ridiculous.
As a die-hard fan of Pearce’s work, it’s been a little frustrating to see most of his work end up in lousy straight-to-VOD thrillers or bottom-barrel Liam Neeson movies that waste his talent. For that reason, The Infernal Machine made me gleeful from start to finish. It may not be more than a satisfying thriller with a little something to say, but frankly, that’s good enough.