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The Torment (2010)
20th Aug 10
You should be grateful that the most disturbing thing in your house is that sock under the sofa you masturbated into 3 years ago during a re-run of that Angela Rippon sketch on Morecambe and Wise…
Review The Torment was once known as The Possession Of David O’Reilly and arrives on DVD with the 4229th “Based on True Events” tagline of the past 10 years and a misleading marketing bid to ride the coattails of Paranormal Activity by being billed as a “shockumentary”. Incidentally, can we call an official moratorium on words like “shockumentary”, “re-imagining”, “quadrilogy” and make it the law that anyone caught using them be very horribly tortured with hammers and religion? If you have ever sincerely used any of these words you really should kill yourself now - you know it makes sense.
Refreshingly, this isn’t some limp Paranormal Activity knock-off but a low-budget, stripped-down London-set chiller from Brighton-born filmmaker Andrew Cull. It avoids being a bonafide “found-footage” flick but cannily experiments with the format and manages to echo the likes of Blair Witch without feeling like another trudge through familiar territory. It’s one of the best re-imaginings of a shockumentary around at the moment and, all being well, could develop into a lucrative quadrilogy.
The first half of The Torment borders on being genuinely terrifying, as Cull’s handheld, prowling widescreen camera generates modest creeps in quiet details (a pen rolling on a table apparently of its own accord) and makes us uneasy almost immediately without letting on what there is to be uneasy about. The movie is at its most effective in the build-up, with said camera revealing nothing when we expect to see something (notably the old bathroom cabinet mirror horror movie gambit) and occasionally glimpsing a grim presence in the corner of the frame that may or may not be in the head of its wigged-out protagonist.
The set-up is straightforward: Nicholas Shaw and Zoe Richards are a young couple who are disturbed late at night by an unexpected visit from a bedraggled, unsettled mate (Giles Alderson). His girlfriend has just walked out on him, he’s an emotional wreck and, worse still, he thinks he is being stalked by some kind of demonic figure that has followed him to their house. For the past two weeks, Alderson has experienced a steadily growing kind of intuition - the sense that monsters, maybe Devils, are coming for him, for some indeterminate reason.
Never leaving the confines of the apartment and offering only fleeting glimpses of the slimy, toothy creatures that hound Alderson, Cull’s film employs the post-Blair Witch subjective-camera approach at various intervals when it takes on the perspectives of the three central characters, mostly the freaked out Alderson. The careful use of this means that the movie doesn’t hinge on a now-very familiar gimmick, and actually adds to the increasing tension.
The movie’s influences stretch from the 1999 trend-setter (especially when a power-cut plunges everyone into darkness) through to the exceptional Session 9, though it’s rare to find a genre movie with a male protagonist as relentlessly terrified as Alderson’s character. The actor is adept at screaming like a girl - and, let‘s face it, in this situation the only realistic and sensible thing to do would be to scream like a girl. The film is most effective when in a lower key and its commendable sincerity does mean that some of the more overwrought dialogue and dramatic moments risk unintentional amusement - but only briefly.
Kudos to the small cast, especially Alderson, for mostly avoiding the kind of self-consciousness that can surface in this kind of movie, and to Cull for some subtly creepy bits of business involving a webcam triggered by movement. The ambiguous, downbeat ending isn’t quite satisfying but The Torment offers at least one really good scare (involving a creature in the dark) and at least one engagingly silly justification for characters keeping the lights out and not leaving the house.