19th Mar2018

Starburst Festival 2018: ‘Torment’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Bill Fellows, Bryan Murray, Cora Fenton, Sinead O’Riordan, Darren Travers | Written by Bernadette Manton | Directed by Jason Figgis

torment-2017-poster

Torment is, essentially, an overwrought drama, with a supernatural bent, about the loss of a child; and sees a mother, Jane, played by Cora Fenton, target and architect as the killer of her child, proceeding to kidnap and interrogate him – all the while seemingly cracking from the pressure of losing her daughter.

Directed by Jason Figgis, who’s career – until this film – has consisted mainly of low-budget exploitation fare like the Grindsploitation series, film has two plot strands: a distraught mother coping with the loss of a child and an apparent child-murderer, trapped underground in a wooden box with only a webcam and a breathing tube being his connection to the outside world. It’s an intriguing idea – following what seems initially to be two unconnected stories, both connected to each other by the murdered child.

Unfortunately when these two plots threads come together there’s no obvious reason why. Torment takes ambiguity to a whole new level – no real explanation for what happens, what did happen or, ultimately what will happen. There’s no conclusion to anyone’s story here – not the bereaved parents or the man accused by the distraught mother of killing her daughter. Even worse, there’s no explanation as to how/why the mother chooses her “victim” in the first place – all we see is Bill Fellows architect Jack fall asleep and then awake in a box underground, we’re not even told who or why he’s taken at first!

The performance are all over the place – our leading lady is wooden when she should be empathic, overwrought when she should be passionate and does nothing but annoy and irritate. The male leads are no better. Former Brookside actor Bryan Murray, as Jane’s husband John, is completely unconvincing – smiling when he should look concerned, smarmy when he should be worried; whilst Fellows, as the victim/killer (it’s never made quite clear), is under-utilised, doing nothing more than reacting against our Cora Fenton’s over-egged performance.

Seemingly an oddly added afterthought, perhaps to give the film something of a more supernatural edge, is the inclusion of a “dark man” – a spirit-like figure who does little more than sit in corners laughing and adding nothing to proceedings other than confusion. He’s like the Tommy Wiseau of this film: looking very much like the The Room actor with a similar stilted, bombastic performance. Only in this case he could have been cut out of the film entirely with no detriment to the finished product.

There is at least one plus point - Torment features a score that takes pieces from the work of John Carpenter and infuses them with an eerie lullaby sound that enhances the film considerably. In a lot of cases its the score that holds the film together – providing an overarching sense of dread that, if not for the score, would no doubt be sorely missing.

This film is very much the epitome of “WTF” filmmaking, there’s little thought given to audience expectation or filmic coherence; as if the filmmaker made the film for himself, knowing what he wanted to see, and – perhaps – the only person, along with the writer, who can make sense of what we see on screen. Though, to be fair, the very notion you have no idea what’s going on means that Torment does actually hold your attention throughout. Right down to the disappointing and disheartening LACK of true conclusion.

It’s not all bad though. With some tighter editing, especially around the hour mark; the removal of the oddly placed “dark man” character – officially billed as “Plastic Man” on IMDb; and the addition of an actual conclusion then Torment could really work as a bleak, unflinching look as bereavement. But right now? I’d consider this more of a work in progress…

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