Directed by Jon Wright, 2009. Starring Alex Pettyfer, April Pearson, Dimitri Leonidas, Calvin Dean, Tuppence Middleton, Peter Amory, Geoff Bell. 91 minutes.

Premise

Darren “Shrek” Mullet, the least popular kid in school, committed suicide. Now he’s back from beyond the grave to take revenge on his bullies…

Critique

Tormented is the sort of high school movie where there’s a cool crowd and an uncool crowd. The cool crowd is made up of jocks, wannabes and hangers-on (being a British movie, there are no cheerleaders) who are rich, attractive, and complete and utter jerks. The uncool crowd is made up of the usual cliques of geeks and freaks. The outcasts are socially awkward, odd-looking if not outright fat and/or ugly, and in fact they’re about as unpleasant as the cool kids are, albeit in different ways. This is a British movie, so the setting is a “public school” instead of a “high school” and the students are “sixth formers” and not “seniors,” but the high school movie clichés hold.

This is probably the central reason I didn’t appreciate Tormented as much as I might have. Almost all of the characters are almost excessively unlikeable—the two exceptions are the two lead characters, Justine (the school’s Head Girl, who walks the thin line between popular and unpopular) and Alex, her in-crowd love interest. Justine is described in the Netflix synopsis as “sweet,” but she isn’t, really. The words I’d use to describe her are “blandly agreeable.” She rarely bothers to exhibit much of a personality at all. (Fault actress Tuppence Middleton here; she’s fairly convincing when the script requires her to be angry, but that’s about it. Still, she has the wonderful name “Tuppence Middleton.”)

Alex is, like all of his friends, an asshole, but he’s the only one who bothers to hide it, and he usually operates under a thin veneer of cocky surface charm. Despite some good work by actor Dimitri Leonidas, I was never able to see Alex as anything other than baldly insincere, and after a while I got irritated with Justine for continuing to buy into it. A great example: Alex shows Justine a video that he’s posted to the internet—well, actually, someone else posted it, but Alex was a willing participant and knew damn well the video was going to end up on the web—in which calls her something to the effect of a “frigid bitch.” Less than 24 hours later, she’s making out with him again. It’s not a violation of credibility—I know people my own age (mid-thirties) who routinely do stupider things than that on a regular basis—but it does drain my sympathy for her.

As far as everybody else goes…the other cool kids are sociopathic jackwads who don’t even bother to pretend they don’t have abrasive personalities. I spent a lot of time thinking…okay, sure, so they’re good-looking and apparently come from rich homes and they throw memorable parties, but were they always massive jerks and if so, how did they ever become popular if they have no redeeming qualities? Most of the geeks aren’t much better. And almost all of the characters behave so stereotypically that becoming two-dimensional would be something to strive for.

I understand that a movie like Tormented needs rigidly defined villains, but it also would help to have someone to root for. Not to give too much away, but after a certain point it even becomes hard to root for Darren.

The other thing that bugged me about the movie was the kills. To be honest, I’m not much interested in slasher movies, so when I do actually watch one—especially a modern one—I expect some creative kills. There aren’t many on display here. Most everything is along the lines of getting impaled through the head on a wrought-iron fence, or having one’s head knocked off with a blunt instrument (have you ever noticed, that in movies like this, when you bash someone in the head the result is not a crushed skull but outright decapitation, with little to no trauma to the head other than no longer being attached to the body?), and the ever-popular Dragged Away from the Camera by the Legs. (The absolute best kill: Darren throws someone into a swimming pool and dives in after her. Then he drags her down to the bottom and sits on her until she drowns. Best of all, he’s wearing swim goggles while he does it.) If Tormented is less of a slasher movie and more of a satire of slasher movies, I’d think the kills would be more thematically consistent with the story.

There are some creative reactions to the kills, such as the following exchange between two cops at a crime scene (the dialogue doesn’t go exactly like this, but close enough):

Detective: What have you got there?
Constable: A condom. It’s full.
Detective: Well, at least he got his rocks off before he died.
Constable: I mean it’s full of his dick.

The reaction to the paper cutter is also priceless. The paper cutter itself is not priceless, unfortunately, and after spending the entire film in anticipation of what that paper cutter was going to do (they establish early on that it’s defective, and there’s a couple later scenes where characters discuss that it hasn’t been fixed…you know Anton Chekhov’s old saying about how if there’s a gun above the mantelpiece in act one, it must go off by act three? If Chekhov were talking about an actual play, and it was being produced by the people who made Tormented, there would be several scenes in the second act in which characters discuss how the gun hasn’t gone off yet), I was a bit disappointed. It’s almost as if the violence belongs in an entirely different, more conventional movie.

Despite these flaws, I don’t think Tormented is a bad movie. At points it’s very clever, and can be very biting and funny. Its treatment of its two main issues—bullying and the effect of information technology (the internet and cell phones) on the teenage social strata—is smart and fairly well-thought out. But the characterization is sorely lacking. Bulk up that, and improve (or outright remove) the slasher movie elements, and you might have something that’s really special instead of merely good enough to do the job.

Moment of Zen

The swimming pool.

Tormented poster

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