Director – Robert Lieberman, Screenplay – Marek Posival, Producers – Mark Burg, Oren Koules, Carl Mazzocone & Marek Posival, Photography – Peter Florian Woeste, Music – Jeff Rona, Visual Effects – Switch VFX (Supervisor – Jon Campfens), Special Effects Supervisor – Rob Paller, Makeup Effects Designer – Joel Echallier, Production Design – Brian Davie. Production Company – Twisted Pictures/LightTower Entertainment.
Erika Christensen (Elise Landry), Jesse Metcalfe (Craig Landry), Bill Lippincott (Patrick Galligan), Bill Moseley (John Kozlowski), Fulvio Cecere (Detective Berger), J. LaRose (Hunter), Thomas Greenwood (Benjamin Landry)
Husband and wife Craig and Elise Landry are shattered when their six year-old son Benjamin is snatched from their backyard. On a routine search, the police find the abductor to be John Kozlowski – but by that time, Kozlowski has killed Benjamin. At the trial, Kozlowski is sentenced to a 25-year jail term. Elise decides this is not enough to pay for their son’s life. They hatch a plan where Craig steals medical supplies from the hospital where he works as a doctor. They then follow the prison transfer van, contrive to drug the drivers’ coffee with laxative and steal the van as the guards make an emergency roadside stop. However, Craig is forced to skid to avoid hitting a deer and crashes the van off the road. They take Kozlowski to a cabin in the woods where they imprison him and Craig prepares to use his medical knowledge to make Kozlowski suffer excruciating tortures before they kill him.
In sitting down to watch The Tortured, I was unable to decide whether it was either one of the most tasteless concepts the Torture Porn genre has so far latched onto or an edgy out there drama that was determined to push boundaries. The premise the film has – husband and wife abduct a paedophile that killed their son and spend the rest of the film torturing him – seems loaded with so many issues that are completely off the moral map that it is hard to know which way to take the film.
As The Tortured settles in with its depiction of the abduction of the son, the trial, their subsequent grief and anguish and then the decision to abduct the convict, it is clear that it is nowhere near an edgy boundary-defying film. In the hands of Robert Lieberman, mostly a tv director who made the interesting true-life alien abduction film Fire in the Sky (1993), as well as genre-related mini-series such as Earthsea (2004), Final Days of Planet Earth (2006) and Eve of Destruction (2013), everything comes with the banal middle-of-the-road handling of a tv movie.
Lieberman is constantly reaching for faux dramatic and emotional effect. There is no real feeling to the film, no taking one inside the moral darkness that Erika Christensen and Jesse Metcalfe have surrendered to, just the stale turning of thriller mechanics and plot devices – the heist of the prison van, for instance, is dependent on improbable circumstances that could never happen in real life. That the film goes for such a controversy-laden idea is not uninteresting; that it misuses it in such an underwhelming way feels like a criminal wastage of potential.
Mostly, you keep asking where the film’s moral compass is? Is it a vigilante film where we are asked to get all outraged and sympathise with a couple who are willing to torture a paedophile? Certainly, given the extreme rhetoric among many community groups when such offenders are released from jail, you might get the impression that there is a market for a type of a film like this.
On the other hand, the film also wants to appeal to the Torture Porn crowd and show the nastiness inflicted on the bound victim in extreme detail – intestines cut open, cigarettes burned out on the skin, syringes jammed in the ear and so on – and it is hard to believe that ardent pro-family people would be the same audience that flocked to the Saw sequels wanting to see tortures enacted in such protractedly nasty detail. The Tortured also fails to view any of this with the biting irony of a work like The Last House on the Left (1972), which saw that the savagery of people enacting revenge was far worse than the acts that had been committed in the first place.
The only point where The Tortured moves out of the dull and uninteresting is one scene where the prisoner flatlines in the cellar and Jesse Metcalfe is trying to revive him, just as Erika Christensen comes upstairs to find a hunter (J. LaRose) and dog in the house, demanding at shotgun-point to know why she is trespassing there. On the other hand, a scene where the prisoner dreams they are cutting out his intestines seems to have no purpose – when a film needs to throw in dream scenes in order to shock an audience, you know it has recognised it is not getting them elsewhere. One is at least prepared to forgive The Tortured somewhat for its effective twist ending, which does screw with the moral compass and take the film somewhat into The Last House on the Left territory after all.
Full film available online here:-