Monday, November 10, 2014

High School Is Hell

Getting old is hard.

I say this not as the woman who once pulled her back while buying a mattress or  the same who DVRs Jeopardy! with a vengeance, but as the film fan who now has absolutely no memory of why a disc was not just added, but bumped to the very top of her queue. Such is the case with 2009's Tormented.

Maybe I'd heard good things? Director Jon Wright has been in the horror spotlight recently for the beloved (though still unseen by  me) Grabbers. Perhaps it was that? Or maybe, more realistically, I saw a tagline that included the phrase "hell hath no fury like an asthmatic nerd" and figured, 'yeah, that's for me.'

Quick Plot: Darren Mullet was a chubby outcast dubbed Shrek by the mean kids at his English private school. We open on his funeral, as the bullied teen has just committed suicide, leaving behind one outcast friend who is now filled with rage at the cruel jocks who tortured the poor kid and the overachieving golden girl who never even knew that Darren existed, much less that he was madly in love with her.

Said overachiever is Justine, the sunny valedictorian who suddenly finds herself part of the A-list when the handsome Alexis asks her out. Naturally, the A-list includes such gems as the handsome but sociopathic prankster,, his dumb but sturdy righthand man, their dimwitted girlfriends, and a white rapper.

Fear not: the white rapper dies first. 

A lot more will follow, of course, as Darren makes a zombie/ghost resurrection into a grisly yet creative murder spree. First-time screenwriter Stephen Prentice tells the tale with a tricky balance of humor and horror, giving real weight to the effects of bullying but finding a lot of cleverness within the entire microcosm that is high school. Side characters include an adorably earnest goth click, a cruel gym teacher with a decidedly un-PC moral code, and a Keira Knightley fan club. 

These are all very good things.

Despite its rather trite premise and low budget, Tormented is a hugely enjoyable horror comedy crafted with surprising skill. Teenage dialogue can often be insufferable on film, but Prentice's script flows well and the young actors embody their ugliness with fun zest.
This is the kind of film that has bully comeuppance climax in a locker room towel slapping and fatal wedgie. When done right, that's a pretty great thing.

High Points
You have to applaud a film aimed at a younger audience that seems to insist on safe sex without making a point of it

Low Points
Did I miss something, or did we never actually learn how Darren came back, or more importantly, and SPOILER-y, why his asthma inhaler was his power source?

Lessons Learned
Boys always always want a shag with a movie

You don’t need a phone if you don’t have friends to talk to

If such tales as Carrie and Slaughter High have taught you nothing, let this film reinforce the time-old lesson that it really does pay to be nice to the uncool kids

Stray Observations
Hey Hannah, don't worry: there are indeed some people who would be far happier skipping the loud and obnoxious party in favor of staying home and watching Atonement.

I had a genuinely fun time watching Tormented. It's currently only a disc rental via Netflix, but it's definitely worth a gander, if not blind buy. I don't necessarily see myself revisiting it any time soon, but I'm definitely now going to scout out Grabbers and keep an ear out for screenwriter Stephen Prentice and Jon Wright's next work. Solid stuff.

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