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Torment-2013-Movie-Poster

For roughly the first half of Jordan Barker’s Torment (2013), all signs point to an above-average little chiller: effectively shot, tense and extremely atmospheric, this little “family in peril” flick doesn’t break a lot of new ground but it ferociously stakes claim to the terra firma that’s already there. Creepy, relentless and with an absolutely ruthless sense of forward momentum, Torment (at first) seems like it’ll be one of those “horror sleepers” that worms its way into my sub-conscious, complete with some very eerie, animal-mask-bedecked baddies…again, not original but highly effective, nonetheless. But then, unfortunately, something rather terrible happens, something that cuts the legs out from under the film and leaves it to die a slow, miserable, humiliating death, flopping around and about like that poor fish from Faith No More’s “Epic” video: the creepy, masked bad guys speak and the whole thing heads straight to Hell in the proverbial hand-basket.

Until the film manages to completely squander all of its accumulated good will, there’s actually quite a bit to like here. The central story, about a pair of newlyweds who vacation in the country with the husband’s extremely difficult son (from his first marriage) opens up some nice avenues for drama: there’s a genuine sense of tension between bratty Liam (Peter DaCunha) and his trying-too-hard stepmother, Sarah (Katherine Isabelle), and a few quietly astute observations about the ways in which step-parents and their families interact. The familial relationship feels fairly authentic (in particular, you really feel for poor Sarah’s attempts to bond with her step-son) and none of the acting gets in the way.

From a horror level, Torment’s first half is a real slow-burn that still manages to include some fairly nasty, abrupt violence, including a very memorable scene involving some sharp garden shears and an astoundingly creepy shot involving shadowy figures in the basement (to be honest, one of the creepiest shots of the year: bravo!). There are some really tense action setpieces, including a marvelously executed cat-and-mouse chase involving Sarah and the masked baddies. Hell, Stephen McHattie even shows up as the lackadaisical sheriff and that’s always a good thing.

Once the film hits the midpoint and decides to let the masked intruders talk, however, the whole thing instantly collapses like a castle made of wet tissue paper. Gone is the tension, mystery and atmosphere, replaced by some of the most tedious, obnoxious and straight-up stupid “tough guy” talk this side of a dinner-theater production of Glengarry Glen Ross. The question of whether to have your masked bad guy speak is always a tough one: in most cases, any mood and mystery goes right out the window as soon as any formerly “strong and silent”-type tests the mic and Torment is absolutely no exception. Suffice to say, that my burning interest in the film was almost instantly doused and the resulting 40 minutes became as awkward, terrible and stupid as the first 40 minutes were effective and chilling.

Hard to pinpoint exactly where to lay the most blame here, but I’ll go ahead and toss a heaping helping of scorn onto the film’s two scribes (that’s right, two screenwriters for this drivel), mostly because the dialogue in the latter half of the film is so painfully stupid and contrived as to stick out like a neon sign. The whole thing ends with an obvious setup for a sequel, which, of course, begs one enormous question: who in the hell wants seconds from this particularly rancid smorgasbord?

Ultimately, Torment is that most terrible of films, at least for me: a scrappy little coulda-woulda-shoulda contenda that ends up as just another cauliflower-eared, empty-headed palooka. There’s plenty of potential here but precious little follow-through: “Torment” might not accurately reflect one’s experience with Barker’s film but I’m wagering the more accurate title wouldn’t have looked as good on the box art: “Tedium.”

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