The film starts off on an overpass where a man is frantically calling 9-1-1 about the kidnapping of his son. His wife arrives home not knowing why the police are there, so I guess the husband didn’t bother to call and break the news. The police detective does break the news in a very jarring manner.
In fact, almost everything seems off about this opening. The leads, Elise and Craig do not register believable emotions, the staging is awkward, and the music does not work at all.
Things don’t get much better with the introduction of the kidnapper. Bill Moseley has been in a 1,000 of these joints, but doesn’t fare too well here. He has rouged his cheeks and is wearing a tiara as he yells at the kidnappee.
A couple of on-the-ball cops arrest Moseley in the first 10 minutes; but then the movie is named Torture, not Manhunt, so you kind of expect that. Tragically, the boy is already dead. This triggers a flashback of him being abducted right out of the backyard as Craig witnesses through a window. He gives chase on foot, then by car, but loses them on the overpass.
Moseley works out a plea agreement to disclose where other bodies are buried in order to get a sentence that could result in him serving only 10 years. During a prison transfer, Craig and Elise drug the guards at a gas station and manage to steal the van with Moseley inside. It takes much longer than expected for the drugs to kick in, yet when the van pulls over it is conveniently close to the dirt road turn-off to the torture-shack.
In a freak accident, Craig flips the van over a cliff avoiding a doe, a deer, a female deer. Luckily Craig and Moseley survive. Well, not so lucky for Moseley. Craig and Elise carry him to a cabin in the woods and explain how they are going to torture him.
The next 45 minutes are torture; and not just for Moseley. Cigarette burns, needle to the ear drum, cramping drugs, It would almost be unwatchable in an effective movie. Here it is cringe-inducing, but bearable. Craig & Elise’s poor performances take some of the edge off. Also, it is hard to take them seriously when Craig makes a point of showing Moseley that the key to his restraints is hanging on a nail just above his head. There is fore-shadowing, and then there is fore-eclipsing.
At one point, Moseley claims to have lost his memory in the crash and to not know who he is or why he is being tortured. That brings up a fascinating dilemma — even if you are OK with torturing the man who murdered their son, is it still OK if he doesn’t know why he is being tortured?
Elise is not troubles by such nuances. They try to jog his memory by tightening his foot in a vice, which always works for me. They scream at him to say their son’s name. He holds out much longer than I could have, but finally — muddying the finale — screams out the boy’s name.
He makes it to the bedroom, but Elise hits him with a pipe. As they are dragging him back the cellar, he kicks Craig down the stairs and runs off. He is pretty spry for a guy whose foot was just turned to jelly in a vice and had his big toe cut off.
By this time, thanks to a nosy neighbor, the cops are closing in on the cabin. Naturally, it turns out there were 2 prisoners in the van and the couple grabbed the wrong guy. They do look a lot alike; apparently even to a couple whose son he murdered, who have seen him in the courtroom and in newspapers and TV everyday for the past few months and who wanted nothing more than for him to die.
Sadly, the ending is thoroughly botched. I can’t blame the writing; there could have been some intriguing twists and ambiguity in the right hands. But it is fumbled so badly here that it is just frustrating.
I’m even willing to suspend disbelief and say that the prisoner was so injured and bloody from the crash that they didn’t see their mistake. But how did this poor bastard yell out their son’s name? The online typing heads are at odds over whether the couple mentioned it in his presence. Certainly, he could have heard it on the news or maybe Moseley bragged about it in prison. But then, what of the amnesia?
In his confession written before he hangs himself, he apologizes for his crime, leading us to believe he was the murderer. Or did the innocent man now believe he was guilty due to the torture? I think it is clear what they were going for, they just bungled it.
Why did the killer hang around the house? Why did the police not go directly to the house where they were specifically told that he might be? Why did they stop looking for the 2nd prisoner after they found the first one?
Why do the police cruise past the turn-off at the end? Is this back-up troops coming, then why are they driving past? Is it the police taking the prisoner back, then why aren’t they coming out of the dirt road?
Do Craig and Elise know that it was the wrong man?
The sad thing is that in the hands of a competent director, this could have been made twisty and fascinating. Director Robert Lieberman has a lot of credits, so maybe it was time and budget constraints. Certainly he did not have much to work with in his lead actors.
- If this was meant to be an anti-torture statement, that is yet another level that it fails on.
- The lead actors both have extensive resumes, which makes their work here even more baffling. Maybe they were just miscast.
- This is Marek Posival’s only writing credit, but he is active in the business. Oddly, for the guy who wrote The Tortured, he sure does like Christmas: