My notes on the 2011 FrightFest choice.
As with its FrightFest stablemate Atrocious, this has a title which is just asking for trouble … as it happens, it’s not quite the barrel-scraping exercise it might have been, though it is what we might call an utterly generic Saw variant that depends on gambits that have been overused lately. Happy young couple Nick (Eric Jay Beck) and Tayler (April Matson) have had a nice day in the country – though Tayler hasn’t managed to tell Nick that she’s pregnant – and make the mistake of offering an older woman who is stranded at a gas station a lift to her car (‘Don’t you think you should ask before you volunteer to play taxi for some strange cougar?’) – which leads to them being knocked out and waking up in a basement room with a random assortment of similarly abducted folks, gadgets bolted to their heads and an array of instruments for doing harm. A video message (from the creepy-looking Maria Olsen) explains the set-up: to harvest a chemical in the brain which is produced by pain, the group are required to torture each other until a quota is filled, which will help in the manufacture of some profitable drug.
Screenwriters Eric Jay Beck (who gives himself a lead role) and Rob Kowsaluk basically string together scenes of fingernail-pulling, cutting, scalding and similar abuse with variations: one subject (Greg Cipes) has old scars and reveals himself as a masochist cutter (he later turns out to be an inside man for the villains), Tayler tries to help Nick by giving him painkillers before his ordeal but this just means he doesn’t yield his quota (pissing off the guy who has undergone the worst ordeal and could have used the pills), a girl (Maya Hazen) shows a sadistic streak and starts going too far, Tayler reveals she’s pregnant and is unwilling to risk her baby (though circumstances eventually prompt her to extreme, protracted self-harm). It’s horrible, sure (vile, even) but the drug mcguffin, which is frankly as ludicrous as The Tingler, is contrived and any points being made about how badly folk react in these situations is mitigated by the fact that there are so few real-life analogues to these situations (and, let’s face it, it’s just a spin on the Jigsaw m.o.). The unfamiliar but professional cast add to their showreels with moments of character revelation between the screaming and bleeding, and director Taylor Sheridan (hitherto a TV actor) puts it all together competently. Still, hard to get worked up about either way.