TORMENT (2013)


Studio:       Vertical Entertainment
Director:    Jordan Barker
Writer:       Michael Foster, Thomas Pound
Producer:  Borga Dorter, Jordan Barker, Allan Fung
Stars:     Katharine Isabelle, Robin Dunne, Peter DaCunha, Noah Danby, Amy Forsyth, Joe Silvaggio, Inessa Frantowski, Stephen McHattie

Review Score:


A secluded cabin getaway turns into a fight for survival when masked intruders terrorize the family staying there.



Newlywed Sarah Morgan is doing all she can to build a family with her new husband Cory and his seven-year-old son Liam.  Yet no matter how much affection his young stepmother shows, Liam still wants nothing to do with her, even if she is played by the lovely Katharine Isabelle.

Cory thinks he has the perfect solution to fostering family growth by taking Sarah and Liam on a secluded cabin getaway.  Like a twisted version of Goldilocks, they arrive at their country cottage only to discover that someone has been sleeping in their beds, as well as eating their food, and apparently calling the Morgan house home.  Yet “Torment” is no happy ending fairy tale.  The Morgans opt to clean up and to carry on, but the squatting strangers have a more torturous plan in mind for the new family.

“Torment” does not waste time amping up the home invasion horror to maximum volume.  It can’t afford to anyway, as it is only around 75 minutes long.  The film keeps a brisk pace with genuine character depth, setting the stage for a competently made thriller doing everything exactly as it should to be creepy and suspenseful.  Which is also the movie’s Achilles Heel.  Everything it does has already been done before.

“The Strangers” is the clearest influence, with “You’re Next” (review here) following close behind.  You’re unlikely to read any review that doesn’t reference one or both of those films in comparison.  The former in particular is a terrific movie to emulate, but “Torment” is still cheating by trotting through territory previously explored by others, no matter how well the formula is executed.

Just as in “You’re Next,” the intruders of “Torment” wear animal masks to conceal their faces, although theirs are fashioned from the “skins” of Liam’s oversized stuffed animal collection.  While the intention is likely deliberate to make a demented association with Disney-associated nightmares, it is more silly than scary that their leader resembles Mickey Mouse emerging drunken and bloody from a DUI-related car wreck.  Soft fur and floppy ears are nowhere near as menacing as something like Decker’s button-eyed zipper mask from “Nightbreed” (review here) for example.

Derivative or not, “Torment” can still be terrifying.  There are scenes of car battery electrocutions, ripped flesh, and baseball bats to the head, though the torture elements remain on a milder level than a “Saw” or “Hostel” movie.  “Torment” focuses chiefly on psychological dread for both the characters and for the audience.

Ominous tones stemming from the music, visuals, and overall mood are in full force from the first frame.  By putting a solid background behind the likable trio at the story’s center with their struggle to bond, “Torment” makes their ordeal more horrible through the panic of being parents whose child is abducted during an intensely frightening scenario.

There are also a number of tropes that function with less success.  A creepy song echoing over a record player in the background is eerie, but trying too hard.  The same goes for scenes of tripping while running and a car that won’t start.  Had “Torment” injected an identifiable personal touch amongst the cluttered clichés, it would have done a better job of standing out from its peers.  The epilogue ending works its way up to an unmasking that may have been meant as a climactic reveal in recompense, although I am unclear about its significance, partly because I was partially blind for my viewing.

I am onboard with any studio or production company doing everything possible to protect their intellectual property against leaks or copyright infringement, but the screener DVD I received was almost impossible to watch.  The 2.40:1 movie was burned full-frame to make the image even smaller by putting black bars on the top, bottom, and sides.  The movie wasn’t watermarked so much as it had blocky text perpetually obscuring the top 25% of the screen.  Blacks were milkier than a dairy farm and the color timing changed between dark and light every 15-20 seconds or so, presumably intentionally to make the copy as undesirable as possible for illegal duplication.

Of course this is not a criticism of the film, or even of the distributor.  Again, I understand that they have to protect the disc against pirating.  These are the First World problems of a film reviewer.  I only mention it because some scenes were such a pixilated blur of washed-out darkness that I am positive I missed details that may have changed my perception of the story, if not my opinion of the movie as a whole.

The other thing I am certain of is that I would have enjoyed “Torment” much more had I not been familiar with “The Strangers,” “You’re Next,” and the myriad other thrillers that have already chewed through the same concept.  “Torment” is well shot (from what I could make out), well acted, well structured, and works effectively as home invasion horror.  But the wind can’t help but come out of its sails somewhat since it already blew a half dozen other boats across the exact same sea.

Review Score:  65

Click here for the review of the companion film "Tormented" a.k.a. "Berkshire County."