A comfortably well-off suburban couple have their happiness shattered when their 12 year-old son Benjamin is kidnapped while playing in the front yard of their house, only to later be found murdered by investigating police officers at the home of a demented pedophile called Kozlowski (Bill Moseley). After his sentence is lowered to a maximum of 25 years for agreeing to provide details which will help identify the remains of other missing children that have been found in his backyard, distraught surgeon Graig (Jesse Metcalfe) and his estate agent wife Elise (Erika Christensen) find it impossible to cope with the thought that their son's killer could be back on the streets in as little as ten years. They concoct a plan to kidnap Kozlowski, take him to a deserted countryside property, and have their revenge by slowly torturing him to death!
Regular readers may be experiencing a touch of Déjà vu concerning the above synopsis, at this point: a few weeks ago we reviewed a French Canadian thriller called "7 Days" which ostensibly had exactly the same plot. It looks like it may well be pure coincidence, but there are an astonishing number of similarities between the two films. Some of this convergence, it is true, is virtually demanded by the necessities of plotting such a vigilante tale with torture as its theme. You can imagine the writers ticking off the list of requirements: the male protagonist has to be a surgeon, for instance, in order to have the foreknowledge to be able to know how to subvert his profession by dreaming up hideous methods of torture for his child killing victim. Plus, there is the subtext that the moneyed middle-classes (of which, a surgeon would be a part) are usually insulated from the more primal emotions which are all the more lethal for having been suppressed by civilised norms. The subject of their disgust has to be a pedophile, because that's the worst thing anybody can be in modern society and there aren't going to be many viewers who would feel the slightest bit of sympathy for such a person. And if the protagonists are to stand any chance of kidnapping their intended victim, the event is going to have to take place while he's being transported from one prison to another, and the hideout is going to have to be a remote, deserted house that happens to be kited out with a roomy cellar full of unpleasant implements and stolen hospital equipment.
Both films follow this template, and there are one or two other quirky details which they also uncannily share with each other. Unfortunately, "The Tortured" comes off the worst from the unavoidable comparison. "7 Days" was a bleak, utterly serious anatomy of the psychology of grief and revenge; "The Tortured" is an efficient enough but overwrought thriller, which often comes across more like a TV movie of the week which has strayed uncomfortably into emotive areas which it simply does not have the maturity or emotional breadth to be able to deal with without the results looking crass and exploitative.
The film starts off attempting to utilise a curiously flashy and unnecessary flash forwards and flash backwards structure, which deals with the initial kidnapping and the police investigation in a cursory, abbreviated fashion, before flashing back later -- after the trial of the killer and the subsequent anguish of the parents over his reduced sentence -- to look in more detail at the moment the boy was actually snatched; while in the present, Metcalfe and Christensen, remembering the whole ordeal, are slipping into a toxic emotional twilight zone of addiction and self-blame which is causing their relationship to begin crumbling away. This has the unintended consequence of making the film start as though it were an episode of a TV series and the opening few minutes a synopsis of last week's episode. The film is also probably unwise to attempt to take us into the world of the pervert child killer, whose dingy lair turns out to be nothing but the typical clichéd abode of countless standard serial killer-related TV flicks, while Moseley's child killer is required to be a full-on weirdo freak with smeared lipstick plastered over leering lips and a deranged personality that flits between multiple oddball personas (in the style of the killer in Bob Clark's "Black Christmas"). On top of this, the unfeasibly good-looking Jesse Metcalfe could not be more miscast and unconvincing in his role if his casting had been deliberate sabotage. Christensen also looks more like she should be in a glossy soap opera than a gritty vigilante flick. Both actors do their best but the screenplay doesn't help either of them with its clunky dialogue and wild improbabilities. There's one moment during the trial, with the mother on the stand giving evidence, that should be unbearably powerful but which ends up looking bizarre and surreally funny when, in attempting to get the jury to imagine the horror her little son must have experienced at the killer's hands, Christensen exhorts them to: 'imagine what it must feel like to be assaulted by a thirteen-foot tall giant!'
The actual kidnapping of Kozlowski takes a hugely unlikely and hard to believe scenario ("7 days" also had problems with this part of the plot, but at least it tried to play things down and not draw attention to it) and makes it ten times more so by staging the event as a major action set-piece in which, having gained possession of the prison van with their target inside, Metcalfe loses control of it and plunges the vehicle over the side of a ravine -- which just happens to be conveniently near the abandoned property the couple had previously earmarked for the site of their coming protracted revenge. Once their victim has been rescued from the wreckage alive ('thank God!' says Elise once she realises Kozlowski hasn't perished in the crash, and so will survive to meet a far more unpleasant end at her hands instead!), Craig and Elise strap him down to a work bench in the darkened cellar where they now set about indulging themselves in lengthy sessions of increasingly unpleasant bodily torture, between which, they retire upstairs for bouts of vigorous love making.
The film devolves now into a fairly routine thriller which attempt to use the iffy subject matter to extract suspense by, for instance: having Elise (who was the one who initially instigated events by demanding the couple take revenge in the first place) lose the stomach to go through with the plan while Craig's bloodlust only increases with each round of torture; by injecting some doubt about whether or not their victim may have lost his memory in the crash and forgotten who he is (something which would take away much of the point of their revenge on him, if it were true); and by having a suspicious local resident turn up thinking that they're trespassers while the couple are in the middle of one of their more violent torture sessions. There's even a dream sequence included, just so that the film makers can squeeze in some extra gore, it seems. The final act is structured along the same lines as the "Saw" films (yes, the film comes curtesy of the producers of that inescapable franchise), with a crescendo of flash backs which reveal previously withheld information that puts everything in a different light and ends the film on a note of tragic irony. The trouble is, where the film suddenly ends seems to me to be the point at which the story is really just starting to get interesting, but emotional believability is never its strong point and, all in all, it is probably just as well that things wind down where they do.
Out to own on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from Entertainment One, "The Tortured" gets a decent enough anamorphic transfer and a good 5.1 Surround Sound audio track (and also a 2.0 stereo track) on the DVD version, with Blu-ray owners getting an extra DTS boost from their audio mix. The extras in both cases are nothing to write home about, consisting merely of a ten minute behind the scenes featurette with interviews and effects footage included, and a curious one minute piece in which the cast and crew explain how they also would love to torture anyone who dared harm their own kids! "The Tortured" revolves around a similar theme as the more convincing "7 Days" related to how revenge ultimately destroys the soul of the perpetrator -- but here its buried under a slick veneer of thriller dynamics and cast in the familiar 'torture porn' aesthetic, that leaves the film feeling both over-familiar in style and occasionally, inappropriate.