Senseless (Simon Hynd, 2008)
While in the strictest sense (no pun intended), Senseless is a film that perfectly fits the definition of “torture porn”, what TV director Simon Hynd in his only feature to date has crafted here is something much more interesting indeed. This is not surprising, given that it’s based on a novel by Printer’s Devil author Stona Fitch (which I have not yet read, but I’ve kicked it way up the priority queue after having seen this film). I’m not entirely sure it works as well as it should have, thanks to a few questionable decisions in, of all things, the sound design. It frustrates me terribly that I can’t describe where all that goes wrong (I can’t because explaining the sound design in the scenes where it becomes relevant would require revealing a great deal of the plot as background, and all this happens in the last half-hour of the film; if it helps any, without being spoily, Hynd, who also adapted the novel, almost certainly based the sound design in those parts of the film from the climax of the wonderful, underrated Sylvester Stallone film Cop Land—but unfortunately he pulled his punches at the last minute). That said, it doesn’t make most of the film any less worth watching, and if you have friends who decry the whole torture-porn gig without having ever seen a film of that stripe (or having only seen one of the awful bandwagon-jumping flicks like Train that should never have been made in the first place), then sit them down and show them this.
Plot: Elliott Gast (The Shipping News‘ Jason Behr, in his last big-screen appearance to date as I write this) is an American banker who’s been called away at the last minute to a meeting in Europe (I seem to recall someone mentioning Belgium in passing, but I could be wrong). While there, he is kidnapped by an extremist group (who don’t consider themselves extremists–”extremists have bombs, Mr. Gast. We do not have a bomb. We have you.”), held in what would seem to be a small, completely white apartment, and tortured live on the Internet as a way to raise funds for the group. As the days of his captivity stretch into weeks and he gets to know, in some ways, those who are holding him captive, he finds that the bonds between those in the extremist group are somewhat strained; in particular, his nurse, Nim (The Reeds‘ Emma Catherwood), approves of the ends, but is less enthusiastic about the means than the nameless torturer (Elizabeth: The Golden Age‘s Joe Ferrara) who is the “face” of the extremist group (though always behind a mask), both to Elliott and to the cameras that broadcast the live feed to the world.
There is a lot of discussion on this movie at IMDB. Which in some ways goes to show that the movie is doing its job; if you’re making a social-consciousness kind of movie and not inspiring debate, what’s the use?—but on the other hand, a lot of it is of the “I don’t get the final 15 minutes” and “why is character X pretending to do event Y?” (when character X is not pretending, and folks just didn’t get it). I usually put a lot of that down to people not just paying enough attention, and I will do the same thing here; if you’re focused enough on the movie, you’ll understand the climax without needing to be guided through (and all the characters’ motivations in same). As I said in the opening, I do think Hynd blew the climax in a couple of ways, and the movie would have definitely been more effective had he stuck to his guns as regards the sound design, but what we got is pretty darned good for what it is. It certainly could have been leagues worse, as shown by so many other films of this stripe. ** ½
Trailer (note: contains some major spoilers).