Apt Title Foretells Effect on its Audience: Lieberman’s Absurd Attempt at Horror
Robert Lieberman’s latest film, a quaggy, moronic torture porn debacle, ironically titled The Tortured, is finally getting released by IFC Films nearly two years after filming. Of course, we’re assuming this is because the distribution company realizes that Lieberman’s film is a dead ringer for a 2010 French Canadian freak show they acquired and released on DVD, the infamous 7 Days. Featuring only superficial differences from its foreign language counterpart, this uninspired exercise frighteningly proves that torture porn revenge has become merely pedestrian.
Beginning with Craig Landry (Jesse Metcalfe) screaming into a cell phone that his son has been kidnapped, we are treated to several memory induced flashback scenarios leading up to the presently grief stricken Craig and wife Elise (Erika Christensen). We get a small glimpse of the pedophile serial killer (Bill Moseley) that has kidnapped the child, of the creed who plays an eerie version of the Mockingbird Song on record player repeat whilst donning sparkly tiaras and displaying a complete lack of talent as to the application of make-up. Jump to the eeriest scene of the film, where two police man break an entering in the suspicious man’s residence and find the dead Landry child, and we’re off to a trial where he gets a reduced sentence in order to disclose where he hid the bodies of numerous other children. The crumbling relationship of Elise and Craig (she blames him for not busting the passenger window of the getaway car to extract their child) finds its stronghold in a batshit crazy plan they have to kidnap the culprit and administer their own torturous judgment. Luckily, it turns out that Craig is a doctor, an erstwhile unmentioned detail that manages to help them out considerably with their nefarious scheme. And, of course, their shockingly schlocky plan somehow works, but with some minor hiccups, laying the groundwork for an unnecessary, surprise twist.
With a director whose last notable film effort was 1993’s alien abduction screamer Fire In the Sky, and two young-ish stars who haven’t done anything noteworthy since the first half of the last decade (not to mention that this is the screenwriting debut from the Assistant Director of several television movies and series of varying quality), it’s hard to say why anyone thought The Tortured was worthy of a greenlight in the first place. For starters, Christensen and Metcalfe are hardly believable as an “upper middle class family,” with Metcalfe shouldering the responsibility as lead scene chewer. Even in their utmost depraved misery (like when Metcalfe is about to inject himself with sodium cyanide), they look more like overproduced runway models than parents hellbent on revenge and torture. After tying their captive up in the basement of an abandoned cabin, Metcalfe advises the pedophile, “Imagine the worst pain you’ve ever experienced. It will be worse than that.” Oh, really?
Screenwriter Marek Posival’s dialogue concerning what would conceivably be said during ritualistic torture is about as adept and realistic as sex talk in a porno. Beyond the terrible writing (with sloppy details, like the policeman testifying to time of death of the child), it’s the two terribly miscast leads that bludgeon this effort into camp territory. Between Christensen’s faux howls of rage and Metcalfe’s flaccid screams, this plays like a no-holds-barred episode of “One Life to Live.” Their stupendously superficial performances make the otherwise grisly and horrific torture sequences as despicable as EZ Bake Oven simulations, though their rendition of playing “little elephant,” a Russian torture technique where the victim is asphyxiated with a gas mask, not only kills any sympathy for the protagonists but is administered with such awkwardness that the “social commentary” it wishes to invoke (a la 7 Days) is extremely laughable, at best. Plus there’s that ridiculously conceived twist that, if you’ve eyes (and/or recognize Bill Moseley) you’re apt to see it coming from a mile off, which, once revealed, manages to make the Landry’s seem even more stupid than they already look.