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Film Review | Sunday, 02 August 2009
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Revenge of the nerd

There is something supremely hateful about schools. Everybody knows they’re essentially a bad idea in practice, so I’m surprised the institution hasn’t imploded yet, on a worldwide scale. Spread your palm apart, and count the nice memories you have of tedious classes, tedious uniforms and downright depressing surroundings.
If you reach beyond five, then let me know: I’d love to meet somebody whose temperament is the complete opposite of my own. Because of their insidiously regimented boredom, the top-down level of spiralling incompetence (that you only really recognise in retrospect: if you’re in on the cool set, you’re too busy fretting about yourself, if not, you’re too busy trying to survive) schools indulge us with a sneak-peek of the world out there, and the way we fit into (or rebel against) their internal networks tends to determine the way we go about fitting into the ‘real world’. Which is why it makes the perfect groundwork for a teenage slasher. Jon Wright’s Tormented left me wondering: why hasn’t anybody done this before? Sure, Carrie famously put bullying on the map as a ripe theme for horror-harvesting, but to set up the entire premise around the bully-victim dynamic sure looks fresh to me. Being a British take on the slasher genre, Tormented has some of the luxury of revision, of taking a tried-and-tested method and, with a simple nip-and-tuck here and there, a darkening of certain hues and an ironic polish to the overall proceedings, it makes for an altogether more satisfying evening at the cinema than most Hollywood outings in the genre, which has by now descended into a machine-like level of boredom, churning out sequel after sequel of gimmick ridden, childishly earnest slashers (Saw and Hostel, anyone?).
The story, as all stories of this ilk should be, is simple. Kid gets driven to suicide by horrible bullies at school, kid comes back from the dead as a zombie and…you can guess the rest. So calculated is Wright’s and screenwriter Stephen Prentice’s illustration of the bullying baddies that the film often teeters on the brink of pitch-perfect black humour and, to the delight of most of us, sometimes plunges in all the way. Alex Pettyfer - playing against type after his leading role in Stormbreaker - hams it up with glee as the hateful Bradley, ringleader of the trendy mob of bullies that drive Darren ‘Mullet’ to monsterdom. It then falls to Tuppence Middleton’s Justine to provide us with somebody we can kind of root for amidst the kind of people you avoided to in school and of whom you probably would not appreciate being reminded. But being a somewhat on-the-fence hypocrite, she hardly makes for robust heroine material. This is a failing of the script in general: while the downright evil bullies are a nice change from the lukewarm set of preppies and bimbos that are a staple of American slashers, there is never really evidence of a lot of effort in fleshing out and developing potentially fertile ground. This hardly detracts from the film’s many apparent pleasures, however. Little care for the characters means you don’t really have the time to bother about them being lopped off and played around with, so there’s plenty of leeway for comedy, gross-out or otherwise. This is not Shaun of the Dead: the characters and the violence are both too gruesome for that kind of (ultimately) heart-warming experience. But with a couple of virtuoso strokes with set-pieces (and bodily ones too): Wright and Prentice strike some genuine laughs. I expect greatness from this duo in the near future.


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