Tormented (2009)

The British horror genre has an unusual ratio of comedy-horrors vs serious horrors compared to the rest of the world. For every Descent and Eden Lake there’s a Shaun of the Dead or a Dog Soldiers to match it. Tormented sits uncomfortably in it’s own middle-ground, a kooky but uninspiring horror that fails to set any real, distinguishable tone.

Comedy horrors are often flagged by early sequences that amuse and set the tone – Shaun’s “can I buy any of you cunts a drink?” skit, Sean Pertwee’s manic janitor in When Evil Calls and the soldiery banter of Dog Soldiers, to name a few. Tormented begins at the end, a horrible and pointless cliché, with head girl Justine (Tuppence Middleton) being led out of school by the police, shocked and bewildered. Cut to the past and a funeral where students fail to mourn schoolboy suicider Darren Mullet. Perhaps the clichéd cliques and blind nonchalance is meant to be funny but isn’t pulled off, yet it’s played straight enough for you to wonder if the film-makers knew what their style was supposed to be.

From the funeral we find our protagonist Justine being inexplicably invited to a party by Alexis. Alexis is one of Bradley’s crew, a bunch of pretty, bullying idiots, and her sudden attachment to them instantly pushes her up through to the higher echelons of popularity. And here lies one of the main problems with Tormented. Not a single one of the characters are likeable, they’re all basically repugnant – Justine happily embraces the group of violent, thoughtless morons and we learn later that she didn’t even know who Darren Mullet was, despite doing a touching reading at his funeral.

Stormbreaker’s Alex Pettyfer plays bully leader Bradley, and his performance is so smug and narcissistic that you actually hate him and anyone who would even think about hanging around with him. Moronic DJ Jez, the first death, actually urinates on Mullet’s grave, while the others who bullied the poor kid into suicide are so unrepentantly remorseless it is both baffling and utterly unbelievable. It would have been a much better idea to have them feel even a semblance of guilt for their actions, but instead they laugh about it in a congratulatory way. You therefore fail to have any sympathy for anyone at all.

Plot wise, Justine’s popularity leads to her alienating her real, geeky friends and simultaneously angering the zombie / ghost of Darren Mullet, who no one believes has returned from the grave to kill his tormentors. And here lies the second major flaw – the “monster”.

Mullet is a shadowy force at first, unseen and creepy. When we first clearly see him, however, all terror is instantly dissolved – he is dressed in his school uniform and wearing a pair of swimming goggles. Whereas normally this would be a laugh-out-loud moment, it becomes a laugh at moment, so stupid and out of place it just doesn’t work. He proceeds to “bomb” into the swimming pool and drowns someone by sitting on them. Generally, Mullet is a laughable adversary with an idiotic weakness, and the general idea of him is just ridiculous anyway – apparently the ideal way of exacting revenge on your bullies is to kill yourself and come back as a zombie / ghost and murder them.

Clearly written by some grown up, non-zombified fat kid, it plays as a long, obvious lesson of never-ignoring a distressed, bullied child and never bully someone OTHERWISE YOU’LL DIE.
Despite all this, it’s reasonably watchable and well shot. A couple of scenes are amusing and the gore is pleasing (a towel fight between Mullet and bully Marcus leads to an eye-out incident which is equally squirm-inducing and funny), but it treads no fresh ground and ends exactly how you’d expect it to.
Mostly pointless and unsure of it’s purpose, Tormented is an idea without form, a didactic rant hidden behind cliché and stupidity and, worst of all, it is simply unlikable.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

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