Movie Review: 'The Tortured'


As an ardent and outspoken supporter of the franchises known as Saw, Hostel, and Police Academy, I am no stranger to cinematic torture -- and I've seen indie flicks and grungy imports that make those movies look like My Little Pony. If I sense that a filmmaker has an idea, a point, or (at the very least) some excellent gore effects to show off, then I have no problem withstanding extended scenes of graphic violence in my horror movies.

Unfortunately for the dumb, dreary, and endlessly redundant movie called The Tortured -- which was actually produced by the Saw-makers, about four years ago, that is -- I didn't sense much in the way of interesting ideas or cohesive points. And while the splatter effects employed herein are, to be fair, adequately realistic and entirely cringe-worthy, they're employed in service of a stupidly schizophrenic screenplay that wants to wallow in torture for only the most puerile of purposes.

We start with a horrific event: a little boy is kidnapped right off his front lawn, and he is tortured to death right before the abductor is brought to justice. The devastated young parents (Erika Christensen and Jesse Metcalfe) deserve and demand justice, but when the courts sentence the vile John Kozlowski (Bill Moseley) to only 25 years in prison, they hatch a truly insipid plan to abduct the murderer and dole out their own brand of justice. And boy do they, but not before bumbling through (again) the most ill-conceived prison transport heist in modern history. Reliant on nothing but blind luck and clever editing, the couple manage to trap their prey, but not before flipping a police van into a creek. 

Which bring us to the meat of the matter: two infuriated parents who spend a good 25 minutes burning, impaling, skewering, and seriously mishandling a sleazy bastard who howls and shrieks and begs for mercy. In the Saw flicks, most of the torture moments last a short period of time, and come baring some dark and ironic humor beneath all the blades. The Tortured, conversely, spends so much time focusing on the basest, tragic, and most simplistic ideas ... it gets really boring, really fast, and no amount of plucked-off fingernails are going to fill this empty vessel with any semblance of a point.

Given that the film is "about" nothing more than two fractured adults torturing a deranged third, the screenplay (almost by default) touches on a few weak points regarding the nature of justice, how much is too much, etc., but even these flat platitudes are demolished by the time we get to a third-act semi-twist that only serves to underline how stupid The Tortured actually is.

Despite its dated and generic nature, I sat down with The Tortured halfway optimistic; the director is Robert Lieberman, who does lots of television now, but once (in 1993, actually) directed a very cool, creepy sci-fi film called Fire in the Sky. Lieberman does bring a relatively professional touch to the material, as does Ms. Christensen, who offers particularly fine work before all the torture begins, but these small glimmers of quality cannot salvage a horror movie that has very little to say about "the evil that men do" upon one another, but certainly has no problem lingering on endless scenes of pointless misery.