“Saw” series producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg return for more of the same with “The Tortured”, a film which, as its title suggests revolves mainly around scenes of pain and violence. The film was directed by Robert Lieberman, mainly known for his television work on series such as “Dexter” and “The Dead Zone”, though who some viewer may remember for helming the excellent alien abduction thriller “Fire in the Sky” way back in 1993. Although the thought of yet another slice of cinematic sadism may not exactly be inspiring, the film does at least take a vague stab at working in some moral issues, with a plot similar to Daniel Grou’s recent and rather more extreme “7 Days”. Having played at Frightfest 2010 in London, the film now arrives on region 2 DVD via E1, coming with the usual handful of interviews and a behind the scenes featurette for those who care.
The plot follows everyday middleclass couple Elise (actress Erika Christensen, whose career once seemed to be going somewhere) and Craig (Jesse Metcalfe, “Desperate Housewives”), whose young son is snatched and murdered by a psycho paedophile (ever dependable genre stalwart Bill Moseley). When the justice system fails to give him an adequate sentence, they take matters into their own hands, kidnapping him on the way to prison and whisking him away to a remote cabin in the woods where they proceed to exact revenge through increasingly gruesome tortures and mutilations.
And, really, that’s pretty much it. “The Tortured” would very clearly like to be an ideas film, with Lieberman and writer Marek Posival hammering the viewer over the head with exceedingly obvious tracts about moral responsibility, the consequences of vengeance, the propensity of human beings for violence, and so on. None of this is particularly well handled, mainly since its central couple are an unlikeable and unsympathetic pair of blanks, and since Moseley’s lunatic pervert is basically him just channelling his usual ranting over the top maniac role. The film completely lacks the chilling even handedness and the emotional and psychological depth of “7 Days”, attempting to manipulate the viewer in pathetically trite fashion with endless flashbacks of the two playing with their son. Not only does this fail to generate any kind of moral outrage, it quickly becomes at first boring, and then incredibly annoying. Even worse, the film leaps headlong into schlock with a daft final twist that is possibly supposed to be ironic and haunting, but which comes across simply as bad writing.
None of this would really matter if the film managed to deliver the gore groceries, though it flounders on this score too, and doesn’t serve up more than a few rudimentary shock scenes, all of which have been seen before, usually with more gusto. Whilst the special effects are of a decent standard, and Lieberman does make an effort to make the viewer squirm, the film is unlikely to trouble the stomachs of even the most undemanding of thrill seekers. Partly this is due to the general lack of tension, and the mechanical way in which the film goes about its supposedly bleak business, which results in there being very little impact to any of its nastiness. Add to this the lack of any emotional attachment, and the most likely audience response is an overwhelming case of meh.
All of this lodges “The Tortured” very firmly at the lower end of the torture porn spectrum, and marks it as one only for the most dedicated of genre fans, or perhaps those Bill Moseley completists who simply have to see him going crazy one more time. Lacking in invention, depth, intelligence or even the requisite amount of sadism, it’s a film with very little indeed to justify its meagre existence.
Robert Lieberman (director) / Marek Posival (screenplay)
CAST: Jesse Metcalfe … Craig
Erika Christensen … Elise
Bill Moseley … Kozlowski
Chelah Horsdal … Liane Strader