What I'm Watching: Torment
I'm going to (hopefully) get through a couple WIWs in the next few days, or the next week, and I'm starting off with Torment.
I've had Torment sitting around for a LONG time, and I've wanted to review it, but it got lost in the shuffle. I'm doing it now because of reasons that will become clear hopefully tomorrow.
The movie stars two of my low budget horror favourites, Robin Dunne (From Species 3!) and Katharine Isabelle. At this point, I could probably turn Trisk into an Isabelle fan appreciation site, with all the movies of hers I've reviewed, but I digress. There's also a Stephen McHattie in this, but he doesn't stick around for very long, sadly.
So yeah, you can probably guess that this is a Canadian production, with those three actors. But beyond that, it's another home invasion story. This has got to be one of horror's favourite tropes, right after two guys locked in a room. It's super cheap to do, since you're stuck in one location, for the most part. That's always attractive for a cheap, quick horror movie to make some money. When done right, they can be super effective because it plays on a VERY primal fear of being attacked in your own home. Torment is of the equally popular variant of the killers wearing masks, and you NEVER EVER see their faces, so they could literally be anyone, another great fear to play on.
The story revolves around a family, with Katharine playing a stepmother to Dunne's kid, Liam, from a previous marriage. So you get the added bonus of trying to fit in, and the kid swinging between being meh on the new mommy to outright hating her/the idea of his birth mother being replaced.
The trio head to Cory's vacation home and quickly discover that Goldilocks has barged in, been eating all their food and sleeping in their beds. So right off the bat, no one is feeling safe here.
Torment is pretty short at 80 minutes, and it doesn't take too long for the Murder Hillbillies to show up. You get just the right amount of time to get used to the family dynamic, and their creeping dread, before everything goes to hell.
But there is a downside to this. You've got some really good actors here, but once the horror really kicks into high gear, you're left watching them split up, which leads to either LONG stretches of silence, or running around shouting out for the missing significant other you're not currently watching.
And of course the Murder Hillbillies are wearing masks and almost never say anything, because that is creepy as all get out. So you've got a lot happening, but at times it feels like the acting potential is being wasted. Once the lead male masked man starts speaking, and things get super creepy, it gets back into a good groove, because we're back watching some good acting, and there is some really good psychological (and physical) torment going on, and when it's good, it's good.
It's also a shame that Katharine Isabelle is usually playing such strong characters, that generally take no shit from anyone, and here she's only doing the typical frightened wife routine, with a ton of screaming and crying. Eventually she DOES rise up and kick some ass, and that's naturally pretty great. But, it's a long time coming. And it first happens when she's in a river, so there is some maybe too on the nose symbolism of baptism and rebirth.
But she does get a REALLY good scene of getting a shotgun that's run out of ammo, and rather than the usual tossing it aside, she clubs the *hell* out of Mr. Bunny with it. That got a little cheer out of me, I won't lie.
Little Brother is now part of OUR family.
The movie does get in some really good atmosphere, and the scene of Liam's stuffed animals slaughtered and beheaded is super creepy. Which leads to the family of Murder Hillbillies wearing the animal heads as masks. Rule #1 parents, never ever buy your kids exclusively giant sized stuffed animals so they can be worn by future tormentors.
The masks are dicey. There is something *really* creepy about people wearing emotionless, fabric masks of stuffed toys. It's creative and hasn't been done very often. But it's also got that weird mundane whimsy and cutesyness that some people won't like. Not many people besides Stephen King can do that sort of horror of mundane things. I think Torment pulls it off, but if you don't buy into it and just sit and laugh, well, you're going to be on the othe side of things.
I do really like that the Murder Hillbilly family's entire conceit is attacking families and taking kids to join their Murder Hillbilly Family, by basically convincing the kids that their parents hate them, by essentially making the parents tell the truth that sometimes, they wish they never had kids. There's a great depth there, and it almost makes them the Hillbilly Jigsaws of the back country.
But there's a downside to this, and that I don't always buy them convincing kids of this. Now, I can see it if they took babies. Raise them from childbirth in your Murder Hillbilly ways, and they just don't know any better. Once we're talking older kids, things get dicier. I can JUST about buy it with Liam, he's young and impressionable enough to be manipulated, but I think just barely. There's another girl we see at the start of the movie who has a mean dad, that we later see has joined up with the masked gang, and I really have trouble buying that.
"Waaaah, my daddy sent me to my room and said mean things to me! Waaah, I'm gonna join a Murder Hillbilly Family, because that's a much better family dynamic, waaaah!'
My one other problem is that I really wish this movie wasn't afraid of colour. I swear, this movie is so desaturated it's about the closest you can get to being monochrome without becoming Sin City. A little brightness, a little colour, so everything doesn't look so dull and drab, would've been nice. Even running through the forest is shades of grey!
ALL that said, I did mostly enjoy this movie. It doesn't really bring anything new to the home invasion genre like Mischief Night did, or even reach the dizzying bizarreness and awesome creativity of You're Next, but it's a decent enough story, with a good cast, and it's short enough that you can forgive some of the mediocre ideas here, and just go along for a quick, solid ride.
Above average, but not much more, but also nothing terribly wrong with it either. A fun little horror thriller with a few decent surprises here and there.
Families are forever.