Featuring what is an undeniably gripping poster thumbnail, Torment seems to have attracted its fair share of naysayers during its considerable tenure on instant streaming services. The long and short of it is that while director Jordan Barker’s fourth film certainly isn’t a modern horror masterpiece, at the very worst it’s functional, which is more than can be said for many of its peers. Telling the story of Cory (Robin Dunne), Sarah (American Mary’s Katharine Isabelle), and Liam (Peter DaCunha) travelling to an isolated vacation home in the middle of the woods, Torment is a concise and unpretentious slasher home invasion narrative. A sullen and somewhat difficult child, Liam resents Cory for remarrying after his mother passed, and resents Sarah even more for entertaining his father’s interests. As tensions heat up at the house, Liam goes missing, kicking off a series of events that will lead to the trio fighting to survive the attacks of a deranged group of psychotic killers.
Torment does a commendable job of keeping the supernatural potential of the film ambiguous throughout the first act. Considering that we are introduced to the killers when a light flickers on in a dimly lit basement, revealing them standing stoically in the background, we assume that ghosts and vengeful spirits are afoot, heightened by the disappearance of Liam’s beloved toy, Mr. Mouse, and the requisite sounds of things that go bump in the night. Especially once Liam’s talking mechanical toys are introduced as a motif, we’re buckled in for a paranormal conflict, which leads to a major criticism against the film: considering that they are, in fact, “real” people, the physical and temporal capabilities of the killers are not tethered in reality and make little-to-no logical sense. Considering that they would all have to be sprinting at breakneck speed to cause narrative events to happen when they do, it would actually lend the film a larger sense of credibility to just have them be returned members of the dead. In addition, it is clear that Barker tried really, really hard to give them believable motivation (indeed, Wikipedia itself points out that “while making the film, Barker chose to make some changes to the script such as trying to add in motivation for the insane family’s torture of the Morgan family”), but these noble attempts resolutely fail. While it adds a slight degree of empathy to the killers to have them want to adopt Liam into their deranged family since they notice that he’s unhappy, they would have had to have followed the family for several months, if not years, to believe their speeches to Cory about how the vacation home is “Liam’s Hell.”
However, if not necessarily able to be forgiven, there is still a solid amount of good to be found in Torment. Most notably, the film takes a note from The Babadook’s pop-up book and gives considerable time to developing the terse intra-familial relationships before introducing antagonistic external elements. Although Liam is rather unlikable and obnoxious on an objective level, we can empathize with his behavior due to the obvious pain he feels at the loss of his mother. We can further relate to Sarah’s depression and anxiety over how Liam despises her, and Cory’s frustrated attempts to ameliorate all the respective ill will. Although it’s rather cheaply resolved that Liam warms up to Sarah since they both escape the situation together, it’s understandable, and the scene wherein the killers force Cory to tell Liam that he doesn’t love him is an absolute highlight, as it ties in with Liam’s internal doubts and fears. However, considering the fact that that is the most effective scene, the film earns a few knocks against it considering that the killers are rather uninventive and not particularly frightening apart from the animal masks they wear. For a movie called Torment, their ideas of torture are unfortunately tired and conventional, and there are several missed attempts to up the ante.
Featuring a surprisingly high production value and consistently tense enough to keep watching, Torment is certainly perfect for late-night Netflix fodder. However, it can only be considered impressive because of the negative reviews it has accumulated. Going into the film cold, one will be faced with a slasher film with well-developed protagonists and decent cultivation of atmosphere, but largely middling everything else.
Featuring surprisingly well-developed characters, Torment’s horror derives entirely from the context of the characters’ relationships with each other as opposed to anything genuinely frightening on a physical level.