After the Saw franchise bloodied up our screens, the term “Torture Porn” was coined – with good reason. The Saw movies entered new territory – or rather, rediscovered old territory; the slow, graphic gore-drenched death scenes, reminiscent of the Italian Giallo horror movies pioneered by directors like Dario Argento and Mario Bava. And they did it incredibly well. So well in fact, that when watching this latest torture-porn offering, one has to ask – really, what on earth is the point?
The film is, quite literally, 90 minutes of horrific pain. An ex-con handyman Arkin (Josh Stewart) needs money fast, so returns to the supposedly empty house of the family he’s been working on, to steal a rare jewel. But the family haven’t left the house, which has been turned, rather ingeniously, into a haunted house of horror from which there is no escape. Think razor bladed windows, steak knives precariously hanging from the chandelier, a room swinging with fishhook mobiles and criss crossed piano wire and you’ll get the idea.
The film is a strange genre hybrid – a thriller that morphs into a horror. Ambitious at the best of times to blend genres, it’s more so here because the leading man is a total unknown and a great chunk of the film is completely dialogue free, leaving the most of the action enmeshed in a cat and mouse game as the morally questionable Arkin to decide whether to fight to save the little blond daughter the gimp-masked killer hasn’t yet found, or get the hell out of there.
How scared you get will depend on how jaded you are by horror movie fail safe plot devices – it certainly won’t touch the sides with hardened fans. And of course, once you’ve managed the not particularly difficult task or realising the hero/criminal is a good guy deep down, you’re basically just watching the decimation of humans in ways that, while inventive, are ultimately not enough to make this movie more interesting than it is grotesque.
There’s an odd little stab at moral justification in a scene where the mother, a beautiful blonde with a penchant for self-administered Botox, blasts away a new wrinkle which she names after her wayward daughter, and is last seen with her plumped up lips sewn together (if you look closely you can almost see the seeping collagen). But it’s a little ridiculous to try and go any deeper here, even though the directors, with their tiresome recurring spider motif (We get it, the house is like a web), really really want you to.
It’s not totally without merit, if that isn’t too damning a half compliment. A self confessed fan of gore (when accompanied by more than torture and more gore, naturally), I enjoyed several of the more inventive death scenes, including one particularly squishy ending involving a bunch of giant bear traps, and an unfortunate boyfriend who never did get to “do it” one last time.
The film is left, like so many of the victims, gaping wide open for a sequel or three. But it should remember this – horror fans are tricky customers. Just because we liked torture a few years ago, doesn’t mean we’re not looking for a killer plot to go with it. Enough is rarely enough, and sadly – or happily, depending on your world view – watching innocent people suffer for two hours in near silence doesn’t cut it, no matter how interesting the moral turmoil of the anti-hero may be.