It was only a matter of time before Disney jumped into the horror game – OK, kidding. No, that’s not a deformed Mickey Mouse standing in the fires of Hell, but instead one of the masked menaces found in Jordan Barker’s Torment. Blending elements of “torture porn” and slasher mainstays, this should-be nightmare does little to separate itself from the pack besides decapitating some larger-than-life stuffed animals so that the film’s villains can wear unique masks. All the major influences can be felt, from The Strangers to You’re Next, but writers Thomas Pound and Michael Foster fail to strike their own unique brand of Canadian terror. Maybe our neighbors to the North haven’t been overexposed to every genre trope in horror’s unwritten rulebook, but such normalcy doesn’t cut it around these parts without embellishments or aiding characteristics – especially when a script glosses over the most interesting dynamics available.
The Morgan family thinks they’re escaping reality for some much needed family bonding, as son Liam (Peter DaCunha) is still struggling to accept Sarah (Katharine Isabelle) as his new mother. Re-married for about a year, Cory (Robin Dunne) hopes a “cabin” retreat will ease tensions between Liam and his new mommy, but the family instead uncovers a dark secret waiting at the cabin. Riddled with rotting food and blood stains, a local police officer (Stephen McHattie) suggests squatting kids caused the mess, assuring the Morgan family nothing but safety. Too bad those comforting words only remain true for a few hours, as Liam disappears the very first night and chaos descends on the distraught parents in the form of four sadistic assailants – looks like there won’t be any time for that rest and relaxation after all.
As an avid horror watcher, it’s becoming harder and harder to accept generic story-building techniques. I feel a bit jaded, as each horror film should exists as its own separate entity, and I’m not quite sure it’s entirely fair to judge by committee, but running through the motions becomes bloody tiresome. Go ahead Katharine Isabelle – they stole your cell phone, might as well try the landline! Drats, that’s snipped. Surely the car still works! Ah, not if they removed the battery for torturing purposes. Here’s a poor female fighting for her life, engaging in a survivalist’s struggle, yet I’m here whining about repetitive genre play and recycled scenes. What’s even worse is I’d probably try all the same futile cliches if I was stuck in a similar scenario (hunted by murderous nutjobs), but such a reality isn’t meant to be entertaining. Comparatively, as a work of fiction, that’s where Torment struggles.
Horror movies about mindless, sex-crazed teens being hacked to bits are unnerving enough, but adding a family dynamic typically injects a bit more drama into the mix. A mother and father with something to fight for calls upon themes of sacrifice, adrenaline, and frantic reciprocation – but that’s only when actors can create a convincing family chemistry. The Morgans, unfortunately, fail at this task, drawing out Liam’s disapproving nature far too – well – comically. What should be an emotional pain point becomes once child’s obsessively malicious mission to make Isabelle’s invading mother character feels as defeated as possible. Honestly, even for a confused, depressed child, Liam is kind of an asshole with a snarky, all-too-bratty attitude that becomes awkwardly hilarious instead of sensitively touching.
Ms. Isabelle, recently known for shouldering the weight of American Mary (in my opinion), once again struggles to move mountains without the proper equipment. The Ginger Snaps alumn knows her way around horror, and portrays a strong, determined survivor girl, but Robin Dunne doesn’t strike the same chord as partner Cory. Isabelle fights her way through obstacles while Dunne simply gets lucky, weaselling his way out of traps just in the nick of time! We’re all familiar with survivor girl stereotypes, and Isabelle fits most of them nicely, but her commanding presence buckles underneath the weight of Pound and Foster’s lacklustre screenplay.
Building a family of delinquent “monsters,” Torment establishes villains who obviously have a strange, violent history, yet we’re thrown directly into the action without any means of knowledge. To us, the Morgan family are being hunted by four random killers wearing silly masks over their heads – but much more is suggested. While Cory endures electric shocks, the bigger, mouse-head-wearing villain preaches about honesty, forcing him to admit he no longer wants his son. This, of course, isn’t true, as our animal invaders simply want a baby brother, but we’re never made aware of true motives or a grand methodology to their evilness. Gory violence is cheapened without understanding what makes each beast tick, and the masks end up hiding characteristics instead of establishing a dominating originality within each bastard.
Barker doesn’t fail at directing a horror film, making the most out of his budget by sneakily hiding deaths behind concealing objects, but Torment becomes repetitive and stale in nature. I’m disappointed that the writers decide not to explore their antagonist’s minds a bit more, possibly revealing a twisted event causing their “family” to begin recruiting members, but a lack of vivid detail creates nothing but faceless killers. Barker doesn’t exactly help though, unable to establish a personal style beyond dark basements, darker forests, and the darkest of dark corners, with only a few minutes of film standing out as shining snapshots worthy of the filmmaker’s fridge (piggy-head illuminated by the flare, for one).
Torment is a hodgepodge of other home invasion films that doesn’t feel overly horrendous, but there just isn’t enough ingenuity when compared to more ambitious films striving to charter new genre territories. A valiant effort, but one that’s quickly, easily, and understandably forgotten.
Despite Katharine Isabelle's best efforts, Torment becomes a tiresome genre affair that never hides its obvious influences.