Thursday, December 9, 2010

In short: The Torment (2010)

aka The Possession of David O'Reilly

When their friend David O'Reilly (Giles Alderson) unexpectedly arrives at the doorstep of Alex (Nicholas Shaw) and his wife/girlfriend Kate (Zoe Richards) one night, the couple are puzzled but not alarmed. David seems deeply in shock and tells them a slightly improbable story about having found out that his girlfriend is cheating on him with another man.

Kate is a bit sceptical, but of course she and Alex invite David to stay the night. Unfortunately for them, David hasn't been very honest to them. He has problems alright, but their nature is quite a bit more outré than what he let on. David is pursued by strange, only half visible creatures who want to do him some sort of harm, and his flight has brought these creatures right to his friends' doorstep.

Well, or it might be David suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is as much a danger to his friends as the monsters he imagines. Only the events of the following nights will show what is the truth.

The Torment (co-directed by Andrew Cull and Steve Isles) is a rather nice low-budget horror film from the UK. It's certainly good enough to make me want to avoid spoiling it, so please excuse my vagueness in the following.

Mostly, it's a film designed to keep an audience guessing if the things David (and the audience when only it and David are looking) sees are delusions or true. The Torment is pretty good at that for most of the time, although some early details should push the viewer into the right direction and should have been either omitted or kept more ambiguous to make the film's narrative core more effective. I at least realized early on what was true and what wasn't, though I was a bit afraid these hints would turn out to be mere plot holes later on.

I shouldn't have worried about that. If The Torment is something, than it is a carefully directed and designed movie. It looks like the directors have been inspired by the techniques found footage horror movies use to build tension and ambiguity and have applied them to a story that just wouldn't work as well in that other format. I'm always a bit puzzled that not more contemporary low budget movies take elements of the found footage form (like lots of hand camera work that produces closeness to the physicality of actors and location which helps build tension, ambiguity through limitation of what is shown to the audience and so on) and use them for a slightly different narrative style like The Torment here does.

At times, especially in its slower and quieter moments, The Torment is a very effective film that can make a shot of flight of stairs seem disquieting and meaningful, at other times, I found myself doubting the way its theoretically sane characters act. Would anyone really let themselves be drawn into what might or might not be David's delusions without seeing or hearing anything what he sees or hears or thinks to see or hear without at least mentioning the word "psychiatrist" a bit earlier than it happens in the film, for example? That's not the kind of problem that ruins a film for me - after all, when have characters in a horror movie ever acted reasonably - yet it kept me more distanced from the characters, and therefore made me care less for their fates than would have been preferable.

Still, The Torment shows that you still can make a good horror movie with little (yet fine) effects on a low budget if you know what you're doing.


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