Suburban couple Craig (Jesse Metcalfe) and Elise (Erika Christensen) are devastated after the abduction and murder of their six year old son. Upon discovering the man responsible, paedophilic serial killer Kozlowski (Bill Moseley) will likely walk away with the minimum sentence, the pair hatch a desperate plan. They kidnap Kozlowski and hold him hostage in the basement of a remote country house. While police scour the woods in search of the missing criminal, Craig and Elise prepare to inflict the same pain and torture upon him as they believe he inflicted on their little boy. But how far they are prepared to go before ‘justice is served’ remains to be seen.
Torture porn with a conscience? The Tortured would like to think it is dissecting the rights and wrongs of vigilante justice but is overwrought to the point where it trivialises some very serious issues. There is something profoundly unsettling about the rise of torture as entertainment given how this coincides with its increasing use by police and the military. It is almost as if filmgoers were being numbed into accepting its use as a part of everyday life. Which is more or less what happens as Craig and Elise reduce their captive to a sickening mound of oozing, putrefying flesh. He is scalded with hot water, gets cigarettes stubbed on his chest, is sliced open, injected with pain-inducing chemicals and has his feet squished in a vice till the bones break. It’s a wonder where he finds the strength to make an escape attempt. Far from suspenseful or even unsettling, the torture scenes are simply tedious and as dramatically inert as the victim’s corpse.
Things start out compellingly enough with a panic-stricken Craig on the phone to the police after his son goes missing, but Robert Lieberman - director of the odd UFO drama Fire in the Sky (1993), the fantasy adventure Earthsea (2004) and genre television shows from The X Files to Dexter - rushes through the aftermath of the child abduction and subsequent court case so gore fans can get their fix. Erika Christensen is undoubtedly used to delivering committed performances for films that don’t often deserve them (e.g. Swimfan (2002)) while Jesse Metcalfe, usually derided as a handsome lightweight, serves his role quite capably. However, their characters switch roles back and forth throughout the movie. One moment Elise advocates vigilante justice while Craig argues murder won’t bring back their son, then suddenly he decides “killing him isn’t punishment enough.” And then they switch back again. Equally convoluted is the couple’s sudden transformation into master criminals pulling off an escape attempt worthy of The Fugitive (1993). The oh-so-ironic closing twist fails to reach any decisive conclusion about the depravity we have witnessed.
The DVD includes brief interviews where cast and crew are asked how they’d react in a similar situation. Erika Christensen hopes she’d be able to keep her emotions in check, while an alarming array of crewmembers (including the craft services lady!) admit they’d happily kill the bastard. Also included is a Making Of documentary that unwittingly unveils the true intent behind the movie as one producer likens the use of gore in horror films to parmesan on pasta, while another points to a prop coffin and admits: “That is where we will end up if this movie doesn’t make any money.”