The thinking behind The Tortured is really quite simple: If somebody hurts you, you are perfectly within your rights to hurt them back. It tells the story of Craig and Elsie Landry (Erika Christensen and Jesse Metcalfe), whose happy lives are shattered when their six-year-old son is kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. The killer, John Kozlowski (Bill Moseley), was caught, tried, and ultimately sentenced to twenty-five-years-to-life in prison. He avoided life without the possibility of parole because of a deal he made with authorities, namely that he would disclose the location of a mass grave containing the dismembered bodies of his other child victims. The grieving Landrys, outraged by the lesser sentence, decide that they should kidnap Kozlowski, torture him, and ultimately murder him.
What infuriates me about this film is that its establishing thirty minutes, which promises a compelling examination of how irrational we can be in the face of loss, anger, and hatred, prove to be little more than rest stops on the way to a profoundly implausible and morally reprehensible revenge fantasy, one that mistakes mindless violence and gore for veiled commentaries on human behavior. This is the kind of movie that appeals to the unevolved areas of the brain, where we delude ourselves into believing that getting back at those who have wronged us is not only justified but mandatory. Ideally, no one would ever be murdered. Realistically, we must learn to adapt to a world in which murders happen every minute of every day. In this particular situation, the best one can hope for is learning to take those first painful steps towards healing.
Given how decently the film begins, I had hope that director Robert Lieberman and screenwriter Marek Posival were actually thinking along those lines and would ultimately deliver a somber but effective character study. Alas, the real purpose of this movie is no more or less than the purpose of torture porn: To pass off human suffering and disgusting desecrations of the body as entertainment. Anything we might have gleaned from the earlier scenes, in which both Craig and Elsie are plagued with visions of happier times with their playful son as they mourn, is all but tossed away. Not since The Final has a revenge fantasy offended me this deeply. Like Kozlowski’s victims, this movie deserves to be dismembered and buried in a shallow grave, then dug up and ripped to shreds by passing scavenger animals.
Through a very unlikely sequence of events, Craig is able to hijack the prison transfer van carrying Kozlowski. Elsie, meanwhile, follows behind in their car. Craig swerves to avoid an oncoming car, which ultimately forces the van to flip over and tumble over a bridge and onto rocky terrain. Miraculously, Craig only has a few scratches. “He’s over there!” Elsie shouts to her husband, pointing to a motionless body wearing an orange jumpsuit. They go over to the body, and although his face is pretty banged up and bloody, it’s obvious that the man is still alive. Husband and wife smuggle him into their car and drive to a secluded farmhouse, where Craig, a doctor, has fashioned a makeshift medical station in the basement. They keep their prisoner on pain killers only for one night. I guess the thinking is that, if they’re going to torture him, he might as well be as healthy as he can be.
And so we flash forward to the next morning, at which point they begin the verbal abuse and physical torture on their heavily restrained prisoner. I’m not going to describe in detail what they do him; I think the mere mention of medical equipment is enough to kick start your imaginations. I will say that, all throughout, both Craig and Elsie are annoyingly wishy-washy on the scope of what they’re doing in the name of their son; not long after Craig begins to worry that they might be torturing a man who may have amnesia from brain trauma, he frantically tries to revive him after depriving him of air, for he didn’t have the satisfaction of hurting him long enough. Likewise, Elsie can be jittery and nauseous one moment then militant and hostile the next. A little consistency in character would have been greatly appreciated.
There seems to be an unwritten rule stating that movies like this are required to include a plot twist. In general, I suspect it’s out of obligation and doesn’t have much to do with genuine surprise. Regarding The Tortured, every fiber of my being tells me that that was the case. I will obviously not spoil anything for you, but let it be known that I could see the plot twist coming a mile away. Even if you haven’t seen as many movies like this as I have, you should be able to see it too. That’s because, in this particular case, you need not bother sorting through the clues dropped all throughout. You only need to a pair of eyes. For the filmmakers to believe that this twist would in any way, shape, or form actually work suggests a serious lack of faith in the intelligence of the audience.
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