The Infernal Machine Review

Plot: Bruce Cogburn, a reclusive and controversial author of the famed book The Infernal Machine, is drawn out of hiding when he begins to receive endless letters from an obsessive fan. What ensues is a dangerous labyrinth as Bruce searches for the person behind the cryptic messages… forcing him to confront his past and ultimately revealing the truth behind The Infernal Machine.

Review: The nature of writers and their creations has been the subject of countless movies over the years, be they horror, comedy, or drama. As a writer myself, dissecting how authors dream up their stories is something I personally have found fascinating. Separating the creator from their product has had real-world consequences as it did in the recent attack on controversial novelist Salman Rushdie. The Infernal Machine takes a complicated look at the psychological power books can hold in a twisty thriller with lofty ambitions that falls just short of living up to them. With a stunning performance from Guy Pearce that earns a spot alongside Memento, The Infernal Machine is an unexpected surprise that I did not see coming.

The Infernal Machine tells the story of famed novelist and recluse Bruce Cogburn (Guy Pearce) whose sole novel, The Infernal Machine, was a massive success but also served as the cause for a killing spree in Knoxville, Tennessee. Separating himself from the rest of the world in the deserts of California, Bruce begins to receive messages from an obsessed fan named William DuKent. Responding via voicemail messages, Bruce’s frustration begins to mount as he discovers stranger and stranger circumstances surrounding his home life that appear to be orchestrated by the mysterious DuKent. As the film unfolds, we learn more backstory about Bruce’s creation of the novel as well as what led him to isolate himself after the massacre he feels responsible for.

From the first scene, the sun-blasted landscape of the deserted setting gives the film a bleak and deadly look. Filmed on location in Portugal, writer and director Andrew Hunt (MIles Between Us) aims for an eerie and unsettling vibe that incorporates everything from number stations to Rube-Goldberg devices. At times, The Infernal Machine seems like it is going to tip into horror and echo the writings of Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft, but it delicately balances the scary elements of the story with a lot of red herrings. There could be a supernatural element to the novel itself which centers on a man literally finding God. There could be a conspiracy element as the killer who claims the book inspired his crimes, Dwight Tufford (Alex Pettyfer), says the book has a hidden message. There could even be something darker lurking in Bruce Cogburn’s past as flashbacks piece together how the author became a hermit living in the middle of nowhere.

This movie has a trio of odd performances that work within the context of The Infernal Machine, even if at times they don’t make a lot of sense. Alice Eve plays a local cop who sympathizes with Cogburn but doesn’t quite believe his fantastical theories. Jeremy Davies is good as Cogburn’s former protege Elijah Barrett and Pettyfer is unsettlingly weird as Tufford. All three are good in roles that support the stellar turn by Guy Pearce. With his sunburnt skin and white hair and beard, Pearce adopts a British accent that makes Cogburn seem very out of place in the story. The 54-year-old Pearce is able to play various ages as Cogburn and very convincingly. He is also really good at playing characters falling out of sanity. Like Leonard Shelby in Memento, The Infernal Machine shifts between sympathy for Cogburn and fear of what he might do.

As the film moves towards the final act, The Infernal Machine changes direction rather abruptly. After starting out as an intricate thriller, the movie turns into something different and far more cliche than I was expecting. There are twists through the first ninety minutes that tricked me into expecting a far more satisfying conclusion to this film. But, by the end credits, I felt a little disappointed that there wasn’t a larger message or twist coming. I will give credit to Andrew Hunt for putting together a movie that looks far better than it should with a solid cast. Guy Pearce is as good as he has been in a movie that is a showcase for his talent at playing a range of emotion and struggle.

The Infernal Machine is an interesting premise that sets up a lot more than it is able to pay off. The journey of Bruce Cogburn to discover who is stalking him is one rife with atmosphere and some freaky and bizarre moments that are framed beautifully on screen. But, with so many threads dangled from the beginning, the film fails to pay off of making logical sense of most of these plot devices, leaving the ending seeming far less profound than it could have. The Infernal Machine goes from solid thriller to cliche in just a matter of minutes and wastes what may be one of Guy Pearce’s finest performances. This movie is far from bad but it never quite lives up to the grand intentions it builds early on.


About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.