Title: The Tortured
Director: Robert Lieberman
Starring: Erika Christensen, Jesse Metcalfe, Bill Moseley, Fulvio Cecere
A stupendously inane and pointless slice of revenge-based horror whose title might as well describe the audience watching it, “The Tortured” chronicles the story of a young married couple’s capture and torment of the man convicted of kidnapping and murdering their five-year-old son. Told in hammy fashion and marked by a pair of hysterical, uneven lead performances, this inept genre entry is an embarrassment to almost all involved.
A mass of expository set-up opens the movie, which centers around suburbanites Craig and Elise Landry (Jesse Metcalfe and Erika Christensen). Craig witnesses their son being snatched from their front yard, and a feverish search ensues, along with glimpses of the psychotic abductor, John Kozlowski (Bill Moseley, adding another demented jewel to his crown of leering, morally detestable reprobates), terrorizing and presumably molesting the boy. The police finally nab John, but not in time to save the Landrys’ son. When he’s convicted with the possibility of parole — the result of a sentencing plea deal in which he agreed to identify the location of other human remains, we’re told — Elise and Craig, a doctor, hatch a plan to extricate John from police custody and extract their own systematic, carefully scripted retribution, keeping their victim alive for as long as possible. As a detective (Fulvio Cecere) works to locate the presumably escaped John, the couple hole up in an abandoned house, but soon find their own moral compasses put to the test.
Other films, including Dennis Iliadis’ recent remake of “The Last House on the Left,” have with some success delved specifically into parents pushed too far, and/or confronted with harm to their child. So the failings of “The Tortured” do not lay with its conceit. Instead, they’re a matter of vision and execution. The movie, penned by Mark Posival and directed in stirringly bungled fashion by Robert Lieberman (“Fire in the Sky,” “D3: The Mighty Ducks”), stumbles out of the gate, never seeming to come up with a good “in” for its story. From its first panicked scene, “The Tortured” starts off at such a high emotional pitch that it renders almost everything that follows almost neutered by comparison.
For a movie in theory about the warping, darkly transformative power of parental grief, there’s a striking paucity of intellectual application or even basic ideas here. The film clocks in at a meager 82 minutes, but its first 20 minutes could easily be collapsed to but five or six. After plodding along and setting up its torturing-the-monster conceit, the third act stupidly hinges on poorly reasoned flip-flops in intestinal fortitude between Craig and Elise. There’s an almost obligatory end twist, of course, but the movie doesn’t even see this through to the end, instead wrapping things up in a manner almost as tidy is it is risible.
The direction, of the point-and-shoot variety, is uninspired, but it’s Metcalfe and Christensen who most bear the weight of this problematic narrative, and they do so in fairly graceless fashion to boot. They’re not particularly convincing as parents, and, individually and collectively, their interpretation of grief chiefly exists in volume. This film is a mess, and not in a campy, entertaining way. Avoid the torture.
NOTE: In addition to its theatrical engagements, “The Tortured” is available on a variety of VOD and digital platforms, including iTunes.
Written by: Brent Simon