Losing a child is one of the most harrowing experiences any parent can go through, but losing him or her to a monster is enough to snap the psyche of even the most well-adjusted family. Such is the fate of Craig (Jesse Metcalfe, “Desperate Housewives”) and Elise (Erika Christensen, Swimfan), two young professionals who must first endure the kidnapping of their only son, Ben, then the discovery of his body by police in the basement of John Kozlowski’s (Bill Moseley) home, who has a grave full of past victims in his backyard.
Their only sense of justice lies in fact that Kozlowski is headed for the death penalty, but even that small hope is dashed when he strikes a plea bargain in exchange for the location of other victims. This proves to be too much strain for their marriage to bear, so Craig and Elise separate, spiraling downward in their own ways until rage takes over.
Elise wants revenge, and she wants it badly. After Kozlowski made the deal with the district attorney, Elise wanted Craig’s help finding a gun, but he talked her out of doing anything reckless. Now, however, he is consumed by his own need to punish, so he seeks his ex out and they hatch a scheme: using the tools available to them via their professions (she is a real estate agent, he is a surgeon), they plan to snatch Kozlowski from a prison transport, take him to a remote location and torture him in the manner that Ben suffered before his death.
At this point, it’s clear the plan has some flaws, but they go ahead with it and succeed—mostly. An unexpected wreck puts a kink in the proceedings, but they recover the unconscious Kozlowski, battered and bloody, and head for an isolated cabin whose owner passed away a year ago. They get him into the basement, set up their little shop of torture and begin exacting their revenge.
This is where it becomes glaringly evident that the producers of Saw are also behind this film, as the scenes of physical and psychological torture are gruesome and very explicit. To see the nice suburban couple devolve into the very type of monsters they’re opposing is harsh, and Christensen, in particular, plays Elise with a cold single-mindedness that is almost scarier than the “procedures” Kozlowski endures.
Christensen and Metcalfe both manage to shed whatever vestiges of their teen heartthrob personas they might have been hanging on to as they deliver what they consider to be fair punishment. Of the two, only Metcalfe’s character seems to have a sense of what he’s doing, waffling between pure outrage and doubt that they’ve made the right decision. Though his portrayal of Craig is somewhat bland at the beginning of the film, the torture scenes are layered and complex.
Of course, the threat of exposure is always hovering in the distance, and the two realize that their lives, as they’ve lived them, are over, but they persevere until the very end, even as the authorities are closing in. And if that’s where the movie ended, either with them being caught and put to justice or with them escaping into the night, then The Tortured would have been a pretty decent horror flick. The genius lies in the last-minute twist ending, which viewers will not see coming and that will reframe the context of the entire movie in mind-blowing fashion.
Director Robert Lieberman, whose career has spanned from episodes of “ABC Afterschool Specials” to D3: The Mighty Ducks, might seem like an odd choice for a film about torture and revenge, but family films aren’t the only titles on his resume, which also includes the serial-killer drama “Dexter” and “Stephen King’s Dead Zone.” It may be this variety of experience that allows the viewer to fully experience Craig and Elise’s grief, as the flashbacks to better days (Ben’s birth, birthday parties, family outings) are wholesome and sweet, serving as stark contrast to the people audiences see at the end of the story.
The movie is not without its problems, though. The wide-screen release comes two years after the official release date, which itself is years after the project began production in 2008. Reports of re-shoots and last-minute editing seem feasible given the somewhat choppy nature of the beginning of the film, where it seems as if parts are missing or aren’t totally cohesive. There is also the danger of having the twist spoiled, as The Tortured has been available as a rental and on IFC Midnight Cable VOD since May 11.
For fans of explicit torture movies (such as the Saw or Hostel series), the little bumps in story aren’t going to make any difference whatsoever, while, for horror fans, the disjointedness more or less works in the film’s favor, causing a sense of disquiet at the beginning that carries through to the final, shocking minutes. Whether viewers are in it to get a gore fix or to witness the complex emotional implications of enacting a revenge fantasy, The Tortured is sure to satisfy.
The Tortured is now playing in select theaters.
For more information, visit the film’s official website.