Friday, June 15, 2012

In Theaters/On VOD: THE TORTURED (2012)

(US, 2012)

Directed by Robert Lieberman.  Written by Marek Posival.  Cast: Erika Christensen, Jesse Metcalfe, Bill Moseley, Fulvio Cecere, Bill Lippincott, Thomas Greenwood.  (Unrated, 80 mins)

It can't possibly be a good sign when a 2012 theatrical release arrives sporting this telling bit of info at the end of the credits:  "© 2009, Torture - Untitled, LLC." Really?  Your movie is already several years old and it's so generic that you copyrighted it as "Untitled"?  And then finally went with THE TORTURED?  It's a fitting degree of slack laziness for torture porn's decaying carcass.  Completed in 2008 and probably only released now to capitalize on star Jesse Metcalfe headlining TNT's new DALLAS reboot, THE TORTURED is well past fashionably late to the post-SAW/HOSTEL party.  It squanders some potentially interesting ideas and an occasionally effective performance by Erika Christensen, who, for a while at least, gives this film a lot more than it deserves.  But it's one of those thrillers that requires everyone to do stupid things and relies on countless convenient contrivances that are only there to get you to the next plot point, and it doesn't matter how clunkily and nonsensically it accomplishes that task.  It's deck-stacked red meat for the fans of this subgenre, but even they seem to have tired of it.  After languishing on the shelf for four years despite the involvement of several SAW producers, THE TORTURED was finally picked up for distribution by IFC Films, who used to focus on quality stuff, but over the last couple of years, have inexplicably been acquiring what feel like dusty castoffs on the Lionsgate slush pile.  In addition to VOD, this is getting a limited theatrical release in a few major US markets, but make no mistake--this is total straight-to-DVD trash from start to finish.  In fact, it's been on DVD overseas for two years.

Well-to-do young couple Elise (Christensen) and Craig Landry (Metcalfe) see their happy lives fall apart when their six-year-old son Benjamin (Thomas Greenwood) is abducted, tortured, and brutally killed by garish makeup-and-tiara-wearing psycho Kozlowski (Bill Moseley, cast radically against type as "Bill Moseley").  The cops arrest Kozlowski, who has a mass grave filled with dead kids on his property but gets his life sentence reduced to 25-to-life when he cooperates by directing police to other burial sites for his victims (what?!).  Enraged by the possibility of Kozlowski being paroled in ten years (WHAT?!), Elise and Craig decide to take justice into their own hands.

In what will have to go down as one of 2012's most ludicrous sequences, they follow a transport van taking Kozlowski to the state pen.  Then, they wait for the van to stop at a gas station so the driver and the guard can get coffee.  While the guard is distracted by Craig barging into the store and acting drunk, Elise laces their coffee with a turbo laxative.  A while later, the van pulls over because the guards have to take a massive shit in a nearby wooded area, making it easy for Craig to commandeer the van, with Elise behind him in their car, and they take Kozlowski to a cabin in the deep woods...and torture him for the rest of the movie.

With Kozlowski chained to the table, Craig (a doctor, by the way) and Elise inflict all manner of pain upon him:  burns, cuts, bone-breaking, catheters, suffocation, general mutilation of various sorts.  It's gratuitous and over-the-top and it's supposed to be, but to what end?  This subgenre has produced clever, well-made films, but there's a reason it ran out of gas so quickly:  there's only so many ways you can cut off an appendage.  Marek Posival's script is insultingly stupid.  A colleague catches Craig sneaking into the back of an ambulance (where he's stealing meds and syringes for the Kozlowski torturethon), and...makes small-talk and lets him go?  And only after they've got their son's killer chained to a table in the basement, gagged and with cigar burns on his body, can Craig and Elise find the renewed passion to have loud, hot, sweaty, near-bed-breaking sex upstairs.  And why would they leave Kozlowski unsupervised?  Well, because otherwise he would be unable to break from his shackles and escape from the basement using the key that Craig tauntingly placed on a rafter just above the table.  And I haven't even mentioned the absurd groaner of a twist ending that's so bad that it would even piss off M. Night Shyamalan.  Director Robert Lieberman has had a long career in TV, with occasional journeyman forays into theatrical features, like 1983's TABLE FOR FIVE, 1996's D3: THE MIGHTY DUCKS and, most memorably, 1993's creepy, well-done alien abduction sleeper FIRE IN THE SKY.  Already hobbled by one of the dumbest scripts in recent memory, THE TORTURED is blandly shot and Lieberman's not bringing anything to it other than workmanlike efficiency.  Metcalfe is completely unconvincing and downright laughable during the torture scenes, but in the early going, Christensen displays a very credible sense of unimaginable grief and blind rage that briefly gives the impression that this might have more up its sleeve.  Well, rest assured, it doesn't and she seems to come to that conclusion around the same time as most viewers will.

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