The Tortured Dir. Robert Lieberman

[Twisted Pictures/IFC Films; 2009]

Styles: thriller, horror
Others: Saw, I Saw the Devil

This ugly little flick is a B thriller with pretensions to torture porn, released under the aegis of Twisted Pictures, the studio responsible for the Saw series. Its initial straight-to-video release dates back to 2009, when it naturally vanished without a trace. Now, IFC Films (no doubt still high off the fumes of Dead Snow and the Human Centipede series) has sent it out into the world again, for reasons that are unclear if not inexplicable.

Elise (Erika Christensen) and Craig (Jesse Metcalfe) are a young, well-to-do married couple. Their six-year-old son has been brutally murdered by Kozlowski (Bill Moseley), a crude, gay-panicky knock-off of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. Not content to let the justice system take its course, Elise and Craig decide that Kozlowski needs to suffer horribly and then die at their hands. They hijack a prison transport van and kidnap the accused murderer. Confining him to a cabin in the woods, they commence the task of torturing him to death. Craig is a doctor, and he sees to it that the victim remains fully conscious and devoid of painkillers, a fact that Craig feels obliged to reiterate ad nauseam.

And that’s pretty much your movie. It’s very unpleasant to sit through, and not just because of all the torture. The writing and acting are also horrendous, and the plot goes absolutely nowhere until a twist is thrown in at the end that is so muddled and confusing that it’s as if it didn’t even happen. Lip service is paid to the agonizing grief that Elise and Craig are going through; questions of guilt, responsibility, and forgiveness occasionally crop up, but they are shallow and poorly articulated.

The film’s one hope for salvation would have been to put some sort of unique spin on the standard torture-porn trope, but on that count it fails, as well. The Tortured doesn’t really know where to go after it has its victim on the operating table, and it’s a slog for actor and viewer alike as Moseley’s character is burned, slapped, squeezed in a vice, and nearly suffocated, among other ordeals. These acts are perpetrated almost as if by rote, and the complete lack of empathy we feel for Elyse and Craig only reinforces itself as they prove themselves to be not just one-dimensional but also highly unimaginative. The audience will almost surely end up rooting for the child-murdering villain, which is odd, since all he does is lie supine and get his skin burned off with a soldering iron.

The core problem with The Tortured is surely its unremitting monotony. As the beating and gouging and flaying drags on and on, the need becomes desperate for some camp, some humor, some far-out gore, or an over-the-top finale. Many of IFC’s previous horror releases featured those elements in abundance. The Tortured would be far less excruciating if it had done the same.

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