The suburban thriller is a genre which plays on our suspicions that the normal and everyday have the potential to conceal the most unearthly horrors. Such films lead with the idea that there is nothing more chilling than a psychopathic personality hiding behind a white picket fence and a pearly smile, and have long been vehicles for exploring the paranoias of the modern age: The Stepford Wives explored the anxiety of technology and homogeny, while the fear of the Average Joe moonlighting as a serial killer is at work in the more recent Disturbia. And then there’s Mark Pellington’s Arlington Road, which tackles the interesting and cheerful idea: what if your neighbour was a terrorist?
Arlington Road follows the story of the recently widowed Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges), a university lecturer who has a particular hunch that the history of American terrorism is not all it seems. Faraday’s life on sleepy Arlington Road is turned upside down one day, when he discovers the son of the new couple on the block, staggering down the road and covered in injuries. Faraday rushes the boy to hospital where he meets the boy’s parents Oliver (Tim Robbins on top-creepy form) and Cheryl Lang (Joan Cusack). The boy recovers, and the adults and children all become friends, until one evening Faraday discovers a suspicious blueprint in the Langs’ home and his spider sense starts tingling. Known to be occasionally paranoid and a widower with the pressures of raising his son on his shoulders, Faraday is an unreliable source and no one takes his suspicions seriously. Faraday embarks on his own investigation, only to be convinced by his friends and Lang himself that Lang is no more than a devoted husband and father.
There are no prizes for who guesses whether Faraday is right or not; there would not be much of a thriller if it turned out that Arlington Road’s normal, suburban couple were just, well¦a normal, suburban couple. Faraday struggles and sweats his way to the twist ending, which is predictable in hindsight, but the plot is so deftly woven and leads you off track so effectively that you’ll wonder how you ever failed to work it out. The only real problem with Arlington Road is that Robbins and Cusack play ˜nice and normal’ so convincingly that we are left wondering why the hell blowing up malls and schools is how these characters, – especially since they have a family of their own, “ would chose to spend their time. Having said that, Faraday’s journey of discovery, (and Bridges performance,) is a pulse-raising joy to watch and the film does deliver on all it promises; suspense, chills and an ending which makes an impact.